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Daily Israel Report

US Charges Three Over 'Gozi' Computer Virus

Federal prosecutors announce charges against three cyber thieves accused of stealing banking information.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 1/24/2013, 1:12 AM

Hackers (illustrative)
Hackers (illustrative)
Flash90

United States law enforcement officials on Wednesday announced charges against three alleged East European cyber thieves accused of stealing banking information from computers across Europe and the United States, including at the space agency NASA.

The "alleged international cyber criminals (were) responsible for creating and distributing a computer virus that infected over one million computers -- at least 40,000 of which were in the US -- and caused millions in losses by, among other things, stealing online banking credentials," said the federal prosecutor's office in Manhattan, according to AFP.

The defendants, Latvian Deniss Calovskis, Russian Nikita Kuzmin and Romanian Mihai Ionut Paunescu, used a malicious computer code or malware dubbed the "Gozi Virus" to hack into bank accounts and "steal millions of dollars” from bank accounts in Europe, the United States and elsewhere, according to the indictment.

Calovskis and Kuzmin began to design the virus around 2005 to steal bank account information of individuals and businesses "on a widespread basis," prosecutors said in the indictment, adding that the scam was  "virtually undetectable in the computers it infected."

In the United States, "more than 160 were computers belonging to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)" were infected, it said.

Financial losses caused by the Gozi Virus hit "at a minimum, millions of dollars," according to the indictment.

Calovskis, a computer-programming expert, has been arrested in his home country of Latvia, the Manhattan federal prosecutor's office told AFP.

The virus' alleged designer and "chief architect," Nikita Kuzmin, from Russia, was in US custody, while the third man, Mihai Ionut Paunescu from Romania and nicknamed "Virus," was in Romanian custody, prosecutors said.

Paunescu operated a Web hosting service from computers in Romania, the United States and elsewhere that helped cyber criminals avoid detection by authorities, according to court papers.

Kuzmin, the indictment notes, "hired a sophisticated computer programmer to write the virus' source code" for the Gozi, so that he could embark on large-scale theft

Calovskis was described as having used his expertise in computer programming to create "web injects," a code that alters how banking websites appear on infected computers, prompting victims into revealing more personal information, such as social security numbers, according to AFP.