GameOver ZeuS: Combatting the Global Threat of CyberCrime

Although cybercrime is no longer a new threat to global security, it has remained an important and growing concern for both domestic and international law enforcement agencies. The very nature of cybercrime requires American law enforcement agencies to reach out to their international counterparts to work together in tracking down criminals. This need for international cooperation has led state leaders to create new pieces of legislation that monitor and prosecute those who commit international cybercrimes.

The FBI Cyber Division has the definitive top 10 most wanted list of international cyber criminals with the list split fairly evenly between those from Russia and China. The Chinese suspects work under the PRC’s 3rd Department of General Staff while the Russians are mainly independent with strong ties to the Russian mob. One suspect on the list is not an individual but rather a group called “JabberZeus Subjects”, a collective of criminals who are infecting millions of computers across the world with a malicious piece of software known as “GameOver ZeuS”. Zeus’s success comes from the number one suspect on the FBI’s list, Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev.


Bogachev is a 30 year old career criminal living openly and freely in Anapa, Russia. His software, known as GameOver ZeuS or GOZ, is a botnet that uses keylogging or form grabbing to acquire banking information and then makes transactions through “money mules”, typically individuals who fall victim to phishing attacks. GOZ also installs “Cryptolocker”, malicious software known as ransomware that blocks access to critical files or documents until a fee is paid. GOZ spreads through spam and compromised URLs, infecting computers in 226 countries with the majority in the United States of America and Europe. GOZ communicates with other infected systems through a P2P network, allowing them to attack vulnerable infrastructures in tandem. GOZ has been used as a network for DDOS attacks against financial institutions and can prevent victims from accessing their compromised accounts. This has led to over $100 million in losses for victims in the USA alone.

The spread of GOZ has prompted coordinated efforts by law enforcement officials in Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Luxembourg to stop the spread of the malware at its source. Led by FBI agents in Pittsburg, Omaha, and Washington D.C., a federal grand jury in Pittsburg unsealed a 14-count indictment against Evgeniy Bogachev for “conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud,  bank fraud and money laundering in connection with his alleged role as an administrator of the Game over Zeus botnet.” Although the charges are an important step to bringing Bogachev to trial, the FBI faces a number of problems with prosecution. The FBI must rely on cooperation with Russian officials to turn over Bogachev and although cooperation with Russian authorities has been “productive”, there has been little effort made to turn Bogachev over to the international legal organizations seeking his arrest.

Since 2001, the international community has been working together to address cybercrime, improve investigative techniques, and increase cooperation amongst nations to combat cyber criminals. Beginning with the Budapest Convention, the international community has begun creating treaties that work to prevent cybercrime. However, due to the complexity of creating a standard set of rules dictating the prosecution of criminals around the world, there still is much work to do. Cyberterrorism and cyber-warfare is also an important topic of discussion and there has been increasing legislation to combat this growing threat. Trade agreements such as the Wassenaar Arrangement which ban the sale of weapons have now been expanded to include hardware and software that can be used to compromise the infrastructure of a nation’s telecommunication systems.

What does the future hold for law enforcement agencies combatting criminals sitting behind their desks thousands of miles away? Increased cooperation between governments is the first step, allowing law enforcement agencies to apprehend suspects and to take them to trial. Beyond that, creating systems that are increasingly more secure and complex to thwart the next GOZ is critical. Finally, it is imperative that the general public is educated on how to protect themselves against phishing and other common techniques used by computer criminals.


Photo Courtesy of “Cliff” (License)

US Narrows In On Chinese Cyber Security Threat

The Financial Times has reported that US investigators are narrowing their search for the author of malicious code which recently attacked a number of US companies, most notably Google. Reports describe the author of the code as a Chinese freelance security consultant in his 30’s who actually posted portions of the code on the web. The code exploited a weakness in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Browser and was used to mine the email accounts of noted Chinese Human Rights Activists. Microsoft has since released a patch for Internet Explorer in response to these attacks.

Reports also suggest that Chinese officials had access to the source code of the attacks. Quotes from unnamed Chinese government researches have surfaced and demonstrate that the government may have known of the codes development and motivations. Additionally, two Chinese universities have been linked to the attack- Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Lanxiang School- however, both schools deny any knowledge and involvement. Read more here.

Two Chinese Schools Said to be Tied to Online Attacks

This week signaled a breakthrough in the National Security Agency’s investigation of the online attacks on Google and other servers. The attacks have been traced to two schools in China, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Lanxiang Vocational School. Jiaotong has one of the top computer science programs in China and rivals elite universities in the United States. Lanxiang is a large vocational school with ties to the Chinese military and Google’s main competitor in China, Baidu.

This new information has raised questions of whether the Chinese government is responsible for the attacks or if the hackers are working independently. Some analysts believe this is just another example of 21st century “criminal industrial espionage”—where independent hackers aim to steal valuable information. While others, such as James C. Mulvenon from the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis in Washington, D.C., point out that China employs a decentralized system of online espionage by often employing the talents of independent “patriotic hackers.”

To read more, read The New York Times.

Report to Congress Details Increasingly Aggressive Cyber-Spying By China

Cyber-espionage from China is rapidly increasing in quantity and quality, the BBC reported today. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission released a report to Congress this week that detailed a major increase in the sophistication and prevalence of Chinese online intelligence gathering. According to the report, the United States and Chinese dissidents living abroad were the targets of much of the espionage, and the spying is linked by direct and circumstantial evidence to the Chinese government.

The Department of Justice reported a 20 percent increase in malicious online attacks in 2008, and expects that number to increase by 60 percent in 2009. The report also asserted that China is building naval assets capable of  denying US access to the region in the event of a conflict between the mainland and the Republic of China.

Chinese officials denied both allegations. According to the BBC, the spokesmen for the Chinese embassy in the US denied that the Chinese government supported cyber-espionage, and called the Taiwan conflict scenario a “Cold War fantasy.”