Using a Trojan horse virus known as Zeus, hackers in Eastern Europe infected computers around the world

A cross border investigation, involving officers from the US, UK, Ukraine and the Netherlands, has led to several arrests in one of the largest cyber criminal cases ever to be launched.

“This was a major theft ring,” said Gordon Snow, assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division. “Global criminal activity on this scale is a threat to our financial infrastructure, and it can only be effectively countered through the kind of international cooperation we have seen in this case.”

Using a Trojan horse virus known as Zeus, hackers in Eastern Europe infected computers around the world. The virus was carried in an e-mail, and when targeted individuals at businesses and municipalities opened the e-mail, the malicious software installed itself on the victimized computer, secretly capturing passwords, account numbers, and other data used to log into online banking accounts.

The hackers used this information to take over the victims’ bank accounts and make unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time, often routing the funds via a network of “money mules”, according to the FBI. The attached infographic displays how the cyber crime worked.

Once the money was in their accounts, the mules could either wire it back to their bosses in Eastern Europe, or turn it into cash and smuggle it out of the country. For their work, they were paid a commission, claimed the authorities.

The FBI said it had arrested 10 subjects and was chasing 17 others.

Those arrested are charged with using hundreds of false-name bank accounts to receive more than $3 million from victimized accounts.

In all, the global theft ring attempted to steal some $220 million, and was actively involved in using Zeus to infect more computers.

Weysan Dun, special agent in charge of the FBI's Omaha office, where the investigation began in May 2009, said: “The international tolerance for this kind of criminal activity is decreasing. Our partners overseas are dealing more aggressively and effectively with cybercrime than ever before.”