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Account-draining bots shut down

By Claes Bell · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Posted: 5 pm ET

Your online banking transactions just got a little bit safer.

This week, Microsoft announced a major crackdown on cybercriminals who seek to infect Americans' computers with harmful software in order to steal bank account holders' passwords, and ultimately, their cash.

That software, called malware, seeks to string together a network of infected PCs called a "botnet," which the criminals then use to send out more infected emails and monitor infected computers' keystrokes. The particular strain of malware targeted, Zeus, is estimated to have caused $500 million in damages since its inception, according to Microsoft.

From the press release:

As alleged in the complaint, Zeus malware uses a tactic called keylogging, which records a person's every computer keystroke to monitor online activity and gain access to usernames and passwords in order to steal victims' identities, withdraw money from their bank accounts and make online purchases. Microsoft researchers found that once a computer is infected with Zeus, the malware automatically starts keylogging when a person types in the name of a financial or e-commerce institution, allowing criminals to gain access to people's online accounts from that point forward.

As part of the operation, representatives from Microsoft and electronic payments industry groups Financial Services -- Information Sharing and Analysis Center and NACHA -- The Electronic Payments Association, were escorted by U.S. Marshals into two locations the thieves were operating from. Once there, they seized a wealth of intelligence on the criminal networks operating these botnets, as well as information that will help them identify, and hopefully clean up, infected computers.

This is great news, to be sure. But all the enforcement actions in the world, however, won't be able to protect online banking users who click on links in spam emails, fail to install anti-virus and anti-malware software, or otherwise put themselves at risk.

What do you think? Do crackdowns like this make you feel safer? What do you do to protect your computer from online thieves?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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