New Zeus Variant Really Is 'Game Over'

Sue Marquette Poremba
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Top 10 Computer Malware Programs

Old security holes are becoming increasingly popular among online criminals.

First it was Ramnit being reinvented. Now Zeus is back for a return performance, and it has the attention of the FBI because it outsmarts most user authentication methods. As explained by ZDNet:

The latest strain of the ID-theft malware, called Gameover, begins as a phishing scheme with spam emails - purportedly from the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), the Federal Reserve Bank, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) - that leads to malware infection and eventual access to the victim's bank account.

The FBI's warning added that the malware steals usernames and passwords. Once the malware is on your computer, it really is "game over."


The new Zeus variant isn't doing anything especially new to trick people. The phishing email wants the reader to click on a link to a phony website, and when the user visits that site, the malware downloads.


Perhaps I'm a cynic, but at what point do we as a society of computer users get smart about clicking on links in email? Yes, the bad guys are very good at creating phishing email letters that seem very real, and even the most astute security expert has to look and think twice before pressing the mouse button. But unless one is a true Internet novice, the basics to prevent downloading malware should be pretty well engrained in one's mind: double check the actual URL of the link, double check the email address, look for typos or other errors, and if you really aren't sure, contact the person or company who sent the email to ask if it is real.


The bad guys will take advantage of lazy computer users. It's the same concept with hacker groups like Anonymous. It isn't that they are the most skilled hackers around; instead, they take advantage of a company's lazy or lax security. Or think of it this way: The most effective way to protect your house from getting robbed is to lock the doors and windows because most robbers aren't going to take the extra effort to find another way in. They move on to the next place until they find an open door. That's what hackers do, too, to an extent. The phishing schemes want you to unwittingly open the door to a stranger.


The FBI's warning does include another level to the new Zeus attacks: money laundering using money mules. The report stated:

In many cases, these money mules are willing participants in the criminal scheme. But increasingly, as part of this scheme, we see an increasing number of unsuspecting mules hired via "work at home" advertisements who end up laundering some of the funds stolen from bank accounts. The criminals e-mail prospective candidates claiming to have seen their resumes on job websites and offer them a job. The hired employees are provided long and seemingly legitimate work contracts and actual websites to log into. They're instructed to either open a bank account or use their own bank account in order to receive funds via wire and ACH transactions from numerous banksand then use money remitting services to send the money overseas.

The FBI's tips to protect yourself are pretty obvious: Make sure your antivirus software is up to date, don't click on unsolicited attachments and don't accept unsolicited jobs that require you to receive money in numerous bank accounts. The steps are clear, but like everything involved in cybersecurity, the most important step is to actually take the time to follow the guidelines.

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