The National Crime Agency - warns computer users to protect themselves against cyber virus
Computer users have been warned to take urgent action to protect themselves from a global cyber virus pandemic.
Police across the globe launched an unprecedented attack on high-tech criminals behind software causing misery to millions.
The computers of more than 15,000 people in the UK are already infected with a virus that could cost our economy ‘millions’, the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned.
But the grip of those behind the so-called ‘malware’ has been weakened by a counter attack on the servers which control the software.
Last night, a Russian named Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev was accused of being the mastermind of an international gang behind the software.
Prosecutors say his alleged set-up consisted of criminals in the UK as well as in Russia and Ukraine.
Computer experts said computer users must install anti-virus software and update their operating systems to the latest versions to stop it regaining its hold.
Those who fail to do so risk having their valuable data, including precious photographs, music and personal files held to ransom.
In the worst cases, victims could lose access to their bank accounts which could be systematically drained by the criminal network.
The software, called Gameover Zeus, has spread worldwide but has been temporarily disabled by the international effort by law enforcement agencies.
Potential victims can protect themselves but have only a short time to do so before the hackers can rebuild their network.
The international effort by forces including the NCA, Interpol and Europol, targeted the ‘command and control’ servers behind the virus.
Hackers will be able to install new ones, but it is thought that there will be a window of opportunity of at least two weeks for computer users to protect themselves.
Many of those whose computers have already been infected will be contacted by their internet service providers.
The software installs itself on a computer when the victim clicks on a link in an unsolicited email or via a website.
In the worst cases, victims could lose access to their bank accounts which could be systematically drained.
He is the man suspected of being behind a gang that has sparked a global cyber virus pandemic.
But the FBI has already spent years looking for Russian Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev who uses the online names ‘lucky12345’ and ‘slavik’.
The 30-year-old is wanted for his alleged involvement in a ‘racketeering enterprise’ that installed malicious software known as ‘Zeus’ on victims’ computers.
The software was used to capture bank account numbers, passwords, personal identification numbers, and other information needed to log into online banking accounts.
The FBI believes Bogachev knowingly acted in a role as an administrator while others involved in the scheme conspired to distribute spam and phishing emails, which contained links to compromised websites.
Victims who visited these web sites were infected with the malware, which Bogachev and others allegedly used to steal money from the victims’ bank accounts.
This online account takeover fraud has been investigated by the FBI since the summer of 2009.
Starting in September 2011, the FBI began investigating a modified version of the Zeus Trojan, known as Gameover Zeus (GOZ).
It is believed GOZ is responsible for more than one million computer infections, resulting in financial losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
On August 22, 2012, Bogachev was indicted under the nickname ‘lucky12345’ by a federal grand jury in the District of Nebraska on a number of charges including Bank Fraud, Conspiracy to Violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Aggravated Identity Theft.
On May 19, 2014, Bogachev was indicted in his true name by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania on charges of Conspiracy, Computer Fraud, Wire Fraud, Bank Fraud and Money Laundering.
Then just days ago on May 30, a criminal complaint was issued in the District of Nebraska that ties the previously indicted nickname of ‘lucky12345’ to Bogachev and charges him with Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud.
He is described as white with brown hair (though his head is usually shaved) and brown eyes. He is 5ft 9ins tall and weighs around 180 pounds (82kg).
Bogachev was last known to live in Anapa, Russia. He is believed to enjoy boating and may travel to locations along the Black Sea in his boat.
He also owns property in Krasnodar, Russia.
It then sends out more emails to lure further victims, without the knowledge of the computer users, and spreads quickly across the internet.
The virus lays dormant until it spots an opportunity to steal personal details such as online banking information and passwords.
It then transmits this information back to the criminal network who use it to drain the victim’s accounts.
In a further twist, if the user is not a ‘viable’ victim then the software locks the information on the computer and holds it to ransom.
At the moment the software demands one Bitcoin, an untraceable form of online currency favoured by criminals, which is around £300.
The U.S. Government admitted that at least one police force has been forced to pay this ransom to release sensitive files.
Last night, the U.S. Justice Department filed papers accusing a Russian named Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev as being the leader of the gang behind the software.
The complaint claims the software has been responsible for the loss of more than $100m from individuals and a string of major companies.
Bogachev's operation, prosecutors say, consisted of criminals in Russia, Ukraine and the UK who were assigned different roles within the conspiracy.
Andy Archibald, of the NCA, said: ‘Nobody wants their personal financial details, business information or photographs of loved ones to be stolen or held to ransom by criminals.
‘By making use of this two-week window, huge numbers of people in the UK can stop that from happening to them.
‘Whether you find online security complicated or confusing, or simply haven’t thought about keeping your personal or office computers safe for a while, now is the time to take action.
‘Our message is simple: update your operating system and make this a regular occurrence, update your security software and use it and, think twice before clicking on links or attachments in unsolicited emails.’
Computer users who fear they could fall victim to the virus are advised to install anti-virus software and ensure their operating system has the latest security updates.
It is thought that the gang first check if a target’s keyboard is in Russian and only strike if it is another language.
Eunice Power is one British victim who has been blackmailed by the cyber criminals.
After corrupting files on her computer, the gang offered to fix the problem for several hundred pounds.