Federal prosecutors in New York have charged more than 60 people for their role in funneling funds that were stolen using the notorious Zeus banking Trojan to places outside the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the people arrested Thursday were either "mules" involved in moving the stolen funds from accounts they set up to locations outside the United States or managers and recruiters for the money mule organization, and individuals who obtained false foreign passports for the money mules.
In the indictments handed down in New York County and the southern district of New York, the individuals face charges for allegedly transferring more than $3 million In stolen funds from accounts opened with false identities.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said individuals in his district were involved in cybercrime rings that are suspected of stealing more than $860,000 from 34 corporate and individual victims. The individuals, all foreigners in the united States on student visas, were charged with opening bank accounts at JP Morgan Chase Bank and other financial institutions in New York County and elsewhere to receive stolen transfers from identity theft victims' bank accounts. Vance said the activity took place between July 19 and Sept. 15.
"These criminals stole from ordinary citizens and businesses using a keyboard—not a gun," Vance said in a statement. "The masterminds used social networking sites and other methods to recruit students into their criminal enterprise."
The people are from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, all have been indicted on charges of identity theft. Thirty-two have also been indicted on charges of grand larceny; three have been indicted on charges of attempted grand larceny; and one has been indicted on all three charges in addition. The crimes charged in the indictments occurred between July 19, 2010 and September 15, 2010.
The arrests were a result of a lengthy investigation that involved a number of law enforcement organizations, including the New York City police, state and federal investigators. Investigators discovered that the individuals from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus had obtained student visas and were recruited through Facebook, other social networking sites and newspaper advertisements to open bank accounts to funnel the money overseas.
Vance said 19 other individuals were arrested on similar charges for using Zeus to bilk about $100,000 from at least 14 individual accounts.
The arrests come after police in London charged 19 people for allegedly using the Zeus banking Trojan to steal millions of pounds from UK bank accounts.
Also called Zbot, Zeus and its other malware variants surfaced in 2008 but began trying to infect machines at a steady clip last year. Automated toolkits make it relatively easy for less sophisticated cybercriminals to use Zeus. The malware is easy to configure and widely available on the Internet.
Security experts say nearly 2 million infected machines make up hundreds of Zeus botnets, which target nearly 1,000 banks.