Ukrainian police on Thursday arrested five people suspected of orchestrating an international fraud ring that siphoned more than $70m out of bank accounts by infecting computers with the Zeus trojan.
The action by Ukraine's SBU was part of an unprecedented partnership among law enforcement agencies in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, the FBI said in a press release issued on Friday. “Operation Trident Beach” first came to light on Tuesday with the arrest of 19 people in London in connection to Zeus-related offenses. On Thursday, 11 individuals were charged in Westminster Magistrates' Court, and in New York federal prosecutors announced similar charges against 37.
Most of those suspects were accused of being “money mules” who set up hundreds of bank accounts under fraudulent names to launder money transferred from accounts that were compromised by the crimeware.
The five people arrested in Ukraine, by contrast, are “key subjects responsible for this overarching scheme” the FBI said. In all, the ring attempted to steal $220m and succeeded in getting $70m.
Trident Beach began in May 2009, when FBI agents in Omaha, Nebraska learned of automated clearing house batch payments to 46 separate bank accounts throughout the US. Agents eventually brought in counterparts from the other involved countries. The payments are a hallmark of Zeus scams, in which hackers break into victim bank accounts and then clean them out using the bank's ACH transfer system.
The thieves targeted small- to medium-sized companies, municipalities, churches, and individuals.
It's been a bad week for criminals who rely on Zeus. On Monday, a researcher disclosed an Achilles' Heel in the crimeware that makes it relatively easy to take over command and control servers. ®