Zeus and SpyNet are only two of the many botnet networks in cyber-space that infect home and business PCs as the workhorses of the scheme and servers in data centers as the work coordinators, all at the behest of the malware's authors. Unprotected servers of legitimate companies may end up as unsuspected clearinghouses for untold numbers of illicit transactions. The owners of these servers do not even know of this criminal activity perpetrated by their own servers until the hardware and domains involved are taken in actions like last week's seizures.
The criminal ring behind the SpyNet and Zeus botnets is thought to be operating out of the Ukraine or Eastern Europe. It is estimated that this one ring of cyber-thieves has stolen over $100 million world-wide over the last few years. Their targets have been small and middle-sized businesses that do not have the resources to fight or even notice these stealthy malware infections.
In the raid, no arrests were made. Hardware was taken off-line and 800 domain names were taken down in a way described here several weeks ago, the method being a redirect to a Federal web page announcing the seizure of the domain. One unusual part of this raid undertaken by the federal government and Microsoft was that the law under which the raid was conducted was RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act created in 1970 to catch mob leaders who did not participate directly in criminal activity. Lately, cyber-crime has often been the target of RICO for arrests and prosecutions.
Web hosting providers and data centers that have such seizures performed upon them must then explain to customers why the web sites and computer facilities that they have paid for are no longer available. Another uncounted cost is the diversion of computer resources for these illicit activities away from the original purpose for which they had been contracted. Providers of hosting services, computer storage and other resources must ensure that their servers and networks are protected from these botnets and other malware before Microsoft and the US marshals come knocking on the door of their data centers.
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