WASHINGTON (AP) — A band of hackers implanted viruses on hundreds of thousands of computers around the world, secretly seized customer bank information and stole more than $100 million from businesses and consumers, the Justice Department said Monday in announcing charges against the Russian man accused of masterminding the effort.
In unveiling the criminal case, federal authorities said they disrupted European-based cyber threats that were sophisticated, lucrative and global.
In one scheme, the criminals infected computers with malicious software that captured bank account numbers and passwords, then used that information to secretly divert millions of dollars from victims' bank accounts to themselves. In another, they locked hacking victims out of their own computers, secretly encrypted personal files on the machines and returned control to the users only when ransom payments of several hundred dollars were made.
"The criminals effectively held for ransom every private email, business plan, child's science project, or family photograph — every single important and personal file stored on the victim's computer," Leslie Caldwell, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, said at a news conference.
Working with officials in more than 10 other countries, the FBI and other agencies recently seized computer servers that were central to the crimes, which affected hundreds of thousands of computers.
The FBI called the alleged ringleader, 30-year-old Evgeniy Bogachev, one of the most prolific cyber criminals in the world and issued a "Wanted" poster that lists his online monikers and describes him as a boating enthusiast. He faces criminal charges in Pittsburgh, where he was named in a 14-count indictment, and in Nebraska, where a criminal complaint was filed. He has not been arrested, but Deputy Attorney General James Cole said U.S. authorities were in contact with Russia to try to bring him into custody.
Officials say the case is another stark reminder of the evolving cybercrime threat, though it's unrelated to the recently unsealed cyber-espionage indictment of five Chinese military hackers accused of stealing trade secrets from American firms. Both sets of hackers relied on similar tactics — including sending emails to unsuspecting victims that installed malware — but the Chinese defendants were government officials who sought information that could bring companies in their country a competitive advantage.