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US Attorney Files Cybercrime Charges Against Alleged 'Gozi' Virus Ring

After what appears to have been a long and complicated FBI investigation, federal prosecutors recently announced that they have arrested and charged three people with designing, purchasing or implementing the "Gozi" virus. Prosecutors claim that this particular virus was one of the most financially destructive in history, and that it also affected NASA.

The alleged international crime ring consists of three people, all between the ages of 25 and 28, from Latvia, Romania and Russia. They are charged with numerous federal offenses, including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

The Russian, now 25, is accused of conceiving of the virus in 2005, when he would have been about 18, then recruiting the now 28-year-old Latvian to help write it. The third defendant is accused of setting up Web hosting services intended to thwart discovery. The Russian was arrested in 2010 pled guilty in 2011, and has since reportedly been cooperating with the investigation. His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

According to the prosecution, the men sold the virus for perhaps $50,000 online at a so-called "Internet bazaar." Reports do not make clear how many buyers there may have been. However, they are even accused of updating and customizing the virus for customers and offering tech support.

The U.S. Attorney claims that the virus was used to obtain information private bank account information. A scenario described by the U.S. Attorney involved setting up fake websites that could be mistaken for customers' banks and then collecting account numbers, PIN numbers and other information as customers typed it in. However, it is unclear how that could be accomplished with a computer virus.

Whatever the case, the Gozi virus is said to have infected as many as 40,000 computers in the U.S., and prosecutors claim that, globally, millions of dollars were stolen. An FBI spokesperson commented that the investigation is "very much ongoing." So far, that multi-country investigation has evidently involved the collection of 51 computer servers and as much as 250 million megabytes of information.

Although no operational harm has apparently been demonstrated, the complaint also mentions that 160 NASA computers were infected, which prosecutors say cost the agency $40,000 to repair.

White-collar, financial and cybercrimes typically involve extremely complex investigations, especially when there is an international aspect. News reports cannot begin to describe the intricate and voluminous evidence collected by the government, so it is difficult to get a clear picture of the events. Without access to more information, it is essential for us as citizens to reserve judgment on any white-collar or international crime conspiracy claim.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "U.S. authorities charge three over 'Gozi' computer virus," Bernard Vaughan, Jan. 23, 2013