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FBI Books Gang of Alleged Hackers Involved in 'Modern, High-Tech Bank Heist'

The FBI has arrested and charged a group of individuals suspected of being involved in a global bank fraud scheme that used the Zeus Trojan and other malware to steal millions of dollars from U.S. bank accounts, netting more than $3 million in stolen funds.

“The digital age brings with it many benefits, but also many challenges for law enforcement and our financial institutions,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “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. But today’s coordinated operation demonstrates that these 21st-century bank robbers are not completely anonymous; they are not invulnerable. Working with our colleagues here and abroad, we will continue to attack this threat, and bring cyber criminals to justice.”

Beginning in Eastern Europe, the cyber attacks included the use of the Zeus Trojan, which was typically sent as an seemingly harmless email to computers at small businesses and municipalities in the United States. Once the email was opened, the malware embedded itself in the victims' computers, and recorded their keystrokes as they logged into their online bank accounts. The hackers then used the information to take over the victims' bank accounts, and made unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time to receiving accounts controlled by the co-conspirators.

A money mule organization recruited individuals who had come to the United States on student visas, giving them fake foreign passports, and instructing them to open accounts at U.S. banks in false names. Once these accounts were opened and received the stolen funds from the accounts compromised by the malware attacks, the mules were told to transfer the proceeds to other accounts, or to withdraw the proceeds and transport them overseas as smuggled bulk cash.

“The Zeus Trojan allegedly allowed the hackers, from thousands of miles away, to get their hands on other peoples’ money“”with far less exertion than a safecracker or a bank robber,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk said. “But their scheme didn’t eliminate risk. Like the money mules, many, if not all, will end up behind bars.”

So far, law-enforcement officers have arrested 20 of the defendants, and 17 suspects are still being pursued in the United States and abroad.

“This was a major theft ring,“ said Gordon Snow, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division. “Global criminal activity on this scale is a threat to our financial infrastructure, and it can only be effectively countered through the kind of international cooperation we have seen in this case.“

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