Two weeks have passed since the feds knackered the systems doling out the GameOver ZeuS and CryptoLocker malware to PCs.
G-men warned us the world had just a fortnight to clean up compromised Windows machines and defend them from the software nasties before their masters regrouped. That time has passed ... and not much has changed.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) – the UK police team that came up with the estimate of 14 days – reckons there's "still time" for computer users to protect themselves from GameOver ZeuS and CryptoLocker.
An FBI-led operation on 2 June "disrupted" the global network of infected computers, providing netizens an opportunity to rid themselves of infamous nasties and prevent future infection while the command-and-control infrastructure was weakened.
Botnet takedowns are not uncommon, and the crooks running the networks normally rebuild, often by regaining control of compromised machines: taking out the control systems leaves behind thousands of infected PCs. These systems still need to be disinfected, preferably sooner rather than later.
But the two-week countdown set up by NCA was arbitrary, and perhaps even a bit mishandled. Its original alert pointed surfers seeking more information to the GetSafeOnline site, which (perhaps predictably) crashed under the load.
GameOver ZeuS is primarily designed to infect Windows PCs and steal victims' online banking passwords. Over recent months, machines infected by the software nasty have been used as a platform to distribute tCryptoLocker, which automatically encrypts a victim's files and refuses to decrypt the data unless a ransom running to hundreds of pounds is paid in Bitcoin.
"Indications are that UK GoZeuS [GameOver ZeuS] and CryptoLocker infections have reduced since 2 June, but thousands of systems remain affected or at risk," an NCA statement on the latest situation explained.
Nearly quarter of a million computers pwned
About 234,000 computers worldwide, half in the US, have been infected with CryptoLocker since its debut in September 2013. Victims have been rinsed of $27m (£16m) as a result, according to FBI estimates. GameOver ZeuS is estimated to have pulled in $100m in illicit income.
Brits who reckon they lost money through malware such as GoZeuS and CryptoLocker should report it to Action Fraud.
Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev has been charged with allegedly masterminding the distribution of GameOver ZeuS and CryptoLocker. The 30-year-old Russian national has been placed on an FBI wanted list over the alleged cybercrimes.
Amid the hunt for the alleged perp, security vendors remain critical of the two-week cleanup deadline suggested by NCA.
Amichai Shulman, CTO of security tools firm Imperva, explained: “I think that more than anything this announcement puts emphasis on the poor posture law enforcement has with respect to cybercrime.
"Imagine the local police announcing a two-week grace period in which the local gangs are 'weakened' (with no further explanation) and urging everyone to use this grace period for installing improved window bars, more sophisticated alarm systems and in general be more cautious when they leave their homes after the grace period is over. This is absurd.
“Repelling cybercrime is not the responsibility of individuals. This ritual of botnet takedown announcements (remember Cutwail?) has been repeating itself for too long."
Dwayne Melancon, CTO of Tripwire, reckoned people should realise they are largely to blame for the mess.
“The majority of the public haven’t been paying attention to this issue, which is how we got into this situation in the first place," Melancon said. "Many of the recommended actions fall into the category of 'good hygiene' in the computing sense, but it is notoriously hard to get the average user to keep things secure and up to date."
Other security experts criticised NCA's advice as lacking in detail and too "generic".
David Harley, senior research fellow at antivirus firm ESET, explained: “The advice that’s been circulated is, as far as I can see, highly generic: use security software and keep it updated, make sure your systems are being patched, use good password management practice. Good advice in principle, but I suspect that in general, people who aren’t doing all that already are probably not going to start doing it because CERTs or the FBI are recommending it.
"After all, security commentators make the same recommendations that tend to be made for self-protection even when there is no specific hot story to hang it on." ®