Finally, some good news on the security front: in an effort dubbed “Operation Tovar,” the U.S. Justice Department teamed up with the UK’s National Crime Agency as well as other international law enforcement agencies to take down two of the most notorious web viruses operating today: the GameOver Zeus botnet and the Cryptolocker ransomware.
These two web viruses had infected up to 500,000 people around the world and cost people more than $100 million, according to the New York Times.
Law enforcement was able to identify the man behind both viruses, Evgeniy M. Bogachev, of Russia. Although they haven’t caught him, he is now a wanted fugitive.
GameOver Zeus, which started infecting computers in 2011, has defrauded thousands of bank customers around the world. Usually, customers unknowingly become victims of GameOver Zeus when they opened spam emails that contained the malware.
Once inside a victim’s computer, the botnet was able to record keystrokes – what you type in your computer’s keyboard – until it was able to determine the usernames and passwords for the person’s financial accounts. With this information, the person who distributed the virus could basically empty the person’s bank account.
If the botnet wasn’t able to record any financial account usernames and passcodes, it locked the computer and demanded a ransom to unlock, usually about $300.
In a nutshell, Cryptolocker is ransomware, meaning that if your computer becomes infected with it, it holds your files ransom until you pay the designated amount. If you don’t pay it, the virus threatens to destroy all of your files.
This malware was usually spread via attachments to legitimate looking emails, or through networks in which one computer had become infected and then infected others.
How You Can Protect Yourself
While law enforcement believes they were able to hunt down and destroy all instances of both GameOver Zeus and Cryptolocker, there is no way to know for sure. Even if they did destroy all copies of both viruses, there will certainly be more of this kind of malware released by other hackers in the future.
Below are some things you can do to protect yourself from botnets and ransomware:
- Install antivirus software and keep it updated: This is the most basic and easy thing that all computer users should do. There is even free antivirus software out there from AVG and Microsoft Security Essentials that gets the job done.
- Block attachments containing .EXE and .SCR files: You can configure your email program to automatically block all emails with attachments containing executable or ZIP files with the extensions .EXE and .SCR, the kind of files with which malware is usually distributed.
- Protect and change your passwords: It’s possible that your passwords were compromised by these two viruses, so be sure to change them immediately and make sure you are not storing unencrypted passwords on your computer. Change them every six months. You can use a password manager like LastPass to keep them organized.
- Beware of suspicious emails: As a rule of thumb, never open an email attachment unless you are 100% it is safe. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Back up your files: You should regularly back all of your files to an external hard drive or USB. This will be a lifesaver if you are ever the victim of a botnet or ransomware. At the very least, you won’t lose access to your files.
Botnets and ransomware like GameOver Zeus and Cryptolocker are scary, and these kinds of attacks will continue in the future. Best to prepare ourselves for the inevitable and take all precautions to make sure we don’t wind up as victims.
And let’s hope that global law enforcement continues to be able to stop these kinds of attacks and find the ones responsible. Sometimes the good guys do win.