Federal authorities have arrested three men in connection with a worldwide scheme to infect computers in order to steal sensitive material, including bank information.
The three foreign nationals allegedly ran a sophisticated international cybercrime ring that infected thousands of computers with the so-called Gozi virus. Prosecutors have labeled the virus to be one of the most financially destructive computer viruses ever created.
U.S. prosecutors revealed that the virus had infected at least 40,000 computers in the United States, but that a more accurate number would not be available until the investigation is complete.
The Gozi virus was used to gain access into personal bank accounts and to obtain other sensitive information from computer users that inadvertently downloaded the virus. Prosecutors charge that the cybercrime ring is responsible for stealing tens of millions of dollars from customer accounts around the globe, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The three defendants: Deniss Calovskis, 27, a Latvian; Nikita Kuzmin, 25, a Russian; and Mihai Ionut Paunescu, 28, a Romanian, were all charged with a variety of crimes including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
"This case should serve as a wake-up call to banks and consumers alike, because cybercrime remains one of the greatest threats we face, and it is not going away any time soon," Preet Bharara, a U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said during a press conference. "It threatens our financial security and our national security."
It was revealed that the creator of the Gozi virus was Kuzmin, a computer programmer who developed the virus in 2005, authorities said. The virus was able to infect computers through spam email or other document files.
One high profile victim of the virus was NASA, when roughly 190 of the space agency's computers became infected with the virus between 2007 and 2012, according to court documents.
The virus was able to obtain information that included log-in information for a NASA email accounts, Web browsing histories and Google chat messages.