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Monday, March 26, 2012
Microsoft And Financial Services Industry Disrupt Massive Zeus Cybercrime Operation

In an effort to disrupt botnets, Microsoft, in collaboration with the financial services industry, has executed a coordinated global action against some of the most notorious cybercrime operations that fuel online fraud and identity theft.

With this legal and technical action, a number of the most harmful botnets using the Zeus family of malware worldwide have been disrupted, according to Microsoft.

Through a collaborative investigation into the Zeus threat, Microsoft and its banking, finance and technical partners discovered that once a computer is infected with Zeus, the malware can monitor a victim's online activity and automatically start keylogging, or recording a person's every keystroke, when a person types in the name of a financial institution or ecommerce site. With this information, cybercriminals can steal personal information that can be used for identity theft or to fraudulently make purchases or access other private accounts. Since 2007, Microsoft has detected more than 13 million suspected infections of the Zeus malware worldwide, including approximately 3 million computers in the United States alone.

"With this action, we've disrupted a critical source of money-making for digital fraudsters and cyberthieves, while gaining important information to help identify those responsible and better protect victims," said Richard Boscovich, senior attorney for the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit. "The Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit has long been working to combat cybercrime operations, and today is a particularly important strike against cybercrime that we expect will be felt across the criminal underground for a long time to come."

This disruption was made possible through a pleading before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which allowed Microsoft and its partners to conduct a coordinated seizure of command and control servers running some of the worst known Zeus botnets. Because the botnet operators used Zeus to steal victims' online banking credentials and transfer stolen funds, FS-ISAC and NACHA joined Microsoft as plaintiffs in the civil suit, and Kyrus Tech Inc. served as a declarant in the case. Other organizations, including F-Secure, also provided supporting information for the case.

As a part of the operation, on March 23, Microsoft and its co-plaintiffs, escorted by the U.S. Marshals, seized command and control servers in two hosting locations, Scranton, Pa., and Lombard, Ill., to seize and preserve data and virtual evidence from the botnets for the case. Microsoft and its partners took down two Internet Protocol addresses behind the Zeus command and control structure, and Microsoft is currently monitoring 800 domains secured in the operation, which are helping identify thousands of computers infected by Zeus.

Because of the complexities of these targets, unlike Microsoft's previous botnet operations, the goal of this action was not to permanently shut down all impacted Zeus botnets. However, this action is expected to significantly impact the cybercriminals' operations and infrastructure, advance global efforts to help victims regain control of their infected computers, and also help further investigations against those responsible for the threat.

There are steps consumers and businesses can take to better help protect themselves from becoming victims of malware, fraud and identity theft. All computer users should exercise safe practices, such as running up-to-date and legitimate computer software, firewall protection, and antivirus or antimalware protection. People should also exercise caution when surfing the Web and clicking on ads or email attachments that may prove to be malicious.

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