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US charges dozens over Zeus scam

01 October 2010  |  9948 views  |  1 digital fingerprints

US authorities have charged over 70 people accused of using the infamous Zeus Trojan to steal more than $3 million dollars from online bank accounts.

Federal prosecutors have laid charges against 37 defendants, while Manhattan District Attorney prosecutors have charged 36, on top of 19 previously arrested.

The US crackdown comes days after police in London arrested 19 people in connection with the Zeus-aided theft of millions of pounds. Of these, 11 - all from Eastern Europe - have been charged.

According to the US federal complaints, the cyber-attacks began in Eastern Europe, with the crooks using malware, including Zeus, to siphon off millions of dollars from accounts.

The malware was typically sent as an apparently-benign e-mail to computers at small businesses and municipalities. Once opened, the malware embedded itself in the victims' computers, and recorded their keystrokes-including their account numbers and passwords, as they logged into their bank accounts online.

The information was then used to take over the victims' accounts, enabling the gang to make unauthorised transfers of thousands of dollars at a time to mule accounts controlled by the co-conspirators.

The money mule organisation recruited people who had entered the US on student visas, providing them with fake foreign passports, and instructing them to open false-name accounts at banks. Once money was in these accounts, the mules were instructed to transfer the proceeds to others, most of which were overseas, or to withdraw the proceeds and transport them abroad as smuggled bulk cash.

The defendants charged in Manhattan federal court include managers of and recruiters for the money mule organisation, an individual who obtained the false foreign passports, and mules themselves.

Federal prosecutors allege the 37 charged stole over $3 million in 21 separate cases. The Manhattan indictments against the other 36 accuses the defendants of stealing more than $860,000 from 34 separate corporate and individual victims and sending them to mule accounts at JPMorgan Chase and other banks.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara says: "The digital age brings with it many benefits, but also many challenges for law enforcement and our financial institutions. As today's arrests show, the modern, high-tech bank heist does not require a gun, a mask, a note, or a getaway car. It requires only the Internet and ingenuity. And it can be accomplished in the blink of an eye, with just a click of the mouse."

Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member | 04 October, 2010, 14:49

The speed and cunning of online banking fraud demands a real-time, 360-degree response.

Analyzing all together the login event, the outgoing transaction and the sequences of events relative to usual customer behavior is a strong predictor of criminal intent patterns. Through this event monitoring and customer behavior profiling, high-risk activity can be detected, and action can be taken in real-time or near real-time to stop the transfer of funds from the account or to contact the customer to confirm that the transaction is genuine, and thus avoiding any loss to the bank or consumer.

But real-time protection is only one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is to approach fraud detection and protection as a customer relations strategy; one which improves account holder security throughout the banking operation. The benefits of building an enterprise platform on top of what may begin as a stand-alone debit card fraud program are many.

For example, when a bank's systems look across broader bank-customer channels it may uncover suspicious activity that would have appeared normal if viewed independently. There are many cross-channel fraud scenarios that fraudsters use to target banks. Such connections can be easily missed when each function has its own specific approach and methodology to fraud. But to get to the level where a bank can effectively detect suspicious cross-channel activity requires an underlying platform that has the flexibility to understand card, internet banking, wire, ACH and other data sets, both financial and non-financial across all channels.

By constantly evolving and updating their fraud prevention and detection systems across all online banking accounts, banks can mitigate the risks of fraud.

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