Microsoft, Financial Services Partners Target Zeus Botnets

Microsoft and its financial services partners seized two command-and-control servers for the Zeus botnets, which used keylogging to access sensitive information.

Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit and a handful of financial-services partners undertook a coordinated action against Zeus botnets March 23, shutting down command-and-control servers in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Microsoft's partners in the operation included the Financial Services-Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC) and NACHA-The Electronic Payments Association, along with Kyrus Tech Inc. U.S. Marshals escorted Microsoft personnel during the actual seizure of the hardware at the hosting locations. Despite the action, however, Zeus botnets still exist in other parts of the globe.

"For this action--codenamed Operation b71--we focused on botnets using Zeus, SpyEye and Ice-IX variants of the Zeus family of malware," Richard Domingues Boscovich, senior attorney for Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit, wrote in a March 25 posting on The Official Microsoft Blog. "Our goal was a strategic disruption of operations to mitigate the threat in order to cause long-term damage to the cybercriminal organization that relies on these botnets for illicit gain." Microsoft continues to monitor some 800 domains related to the seized servers, in turn allowing the company to identify a large number of PCs infected with the malware.

Zeus malwares utilizes keylogging in order to access usernames and passwords. From there, a cybercriminal can steal victims online identities. "Microsoft researchers found that once a computer is infected with Zeus, the malware automatically starts keylogging when a person types in the name of a financial or e-commerce institution," Boscovich wrote, "allowing criminals to gain access to people s online accounts from that point forward."

Microsoft claims some 13 million suspected Zeus infections worldwide, with three million of them in the United States. The company filed suit March 19 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against John Does 1-39, which it claims have control over the Internet Domains and IP addresses linked to Zeus botnets. In doing so, Microsoft follows a successful pattern established in the Waledac, Rustock and Kelihos botnet takedowns, all of which involved a courtroom aspect in addition to seizing command-and-control servers. 

"We don't expect this action to have wiped out every Zeus botnet operating in the world," Boscovich added. "However, together, we have proactively disrupted some of the most harmful botnets, and we expect this effort will significantly impact the cybercriminal underworld for quite some time."

This article was originally published on 03-26-2012
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