Hackers target more than eight million computers

scamA cyber-criminal ring infecting computers across the world has been shut down.

A cyber-scam network, which has infected more than eight million computers around the world in the past two years, has been shut down.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Microsoft and Symantec combined forces and closed down the hackers' network last week

The hackers used an online virus, known as the "Bamital Botnet", to gain access to personal details stored on PCs.

Cyber-crime network

The botnet was used by criminals to access people's PCs and hijack online search results. It would then lead the user to an unknown website which could start downloading malware, steal their personal information or charge businesses for false online advertisement clicks.

It also led users to websites they never intended to vist. For example, one user was redirected from an official Norton Internet Security Page, which appeared in a list of search results, to a rogue antivirus website distributing malware.

Although exact numbers aren't known, Microsoft says more than eight million computers have been targeted with this virus in the past two years and 300,000 were disconnected this week from the network.

On 31st January Microsoft filed a lawsuit which was supported by Symantec to the botnet's operators to sever communication lines. This didn't happen, so data centres across the US were raided and the infected servers were disrupted.

Those computers which had been infected were then disconnected from the virus network. Users were directed to get rid of the virus.

This is the sixth time in the last three years that Microsoft has stopped a cybercrime network and the second in cooperation with Symantec.

"It was done in such a sneaky way that most victims wouldn't have even noticed a problem while the botnet was still operating," explained Richard Domigues Boscovich, assistant general counsel for Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit.

"Because the data gathered from this takedown will become part of Microsoft's ongoing research in support of protecting its customers from a range of evolving online security threats, we can actually use the criminals' infrastructure against them and make it harder and more expensive for them to commit cybercrime," he added.

How to disinfect your computer

Computers which are currently infected with the virus were contacted with a message from Microsoft.

It appeared when the user attempted to search for something on the internet and told the user their computer was very likely to be infected with malware which was redirecting the results of their search queries.

Two free programmes were then listed, Microsoft Safety Scanner and the Norton Power Eraser, which users were encouraged to run to disinfect their computers. More information on how to clear the virus from your computer can be found on the Microsoft Support website.

How to avoid cyber crime

The best way to avoid being hacked is to keep your computer's security systems up to date and regularly scan for infections. It's also vital to use different passwords for all the accounts you use online and to use a password which isn't likely to be hacked.

If your personal details have been stolen criminals can use them to get access to your accounts or apply for credit in your name. Therefore check your bank statements regularly and your credit record as this is where you'll be able to spot any irregularities.

If you do see something untoward, such as a payment you haven't authorised, call your bank immediately and let it know.

The top 10 scams of 2011
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Hackers target more than eight million computers

Land banking involves plots of land offered for sale, often online, with the promise of sizable returns when planning permission is approved for housing or other development. Yet often the land is located in areas protected from development by planning law.

The companies involved soon disappear with investors' money and as the firms are not protected by the Financial Services Authority, their funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme

It is reasonable to assume that if you take out a mobile phone contract at £30 a month for 24 months that's exactly what you'll pay unless you exceed the tariff. Yet mobile phone providers have come under fire for a snag buried in the small print – a clause to allow mid-contract price rises.

Prices are rising by a median of 81p a month and 70% of consumers are completely unaware off this sneaky move, according to Tesco Mobile, so be sure to check any new contracts before you sign the dotted line.

Fraudsters recruit unknowing accomplices through email under the guise of offering employment, seeking a personal favour, or through internet shopping sites. The recruits are persuaded into receiving what are essentially fraudulent payments and then passing funds on.

The 'mules' are frequently offered a small financial incentive to encourage involvement and face difficulties in proving their innocence when the fraud is discovered.

The scams claim to offer people the chance to profit from carbon credits. Under regulations that permit businesses to emit a tonne of CO2 – the companies claim to offer investment in green projects like a forestry scheme or a solar panel project, which generates carbon credits that are then sold on to heavy industry.

A flashy brochure or website tells of a reliable 'government-backed' scheme which provides reliable returns for investors. Such a scheme doesn't exist however – a reality investors only discovered when they have parted with their cash and the company is untraceable. As with land banking, fraudulent companies are not covered by the FSA so victims have no course for recompense

Receiving an email from the taxman saying you are owed a payment may seem like a nice surprise, but it is actually from fraudsters trying to relieve you of your cash instead.

The emails provide a "click-through link" to a cloned replica of the HMRC website. The recipient is then asked to provide their credit or debit card details - all the information the criminals need to clear your account, and sell on your personal details.

Insurer Direct Line reported a hike in the number of 'crash for cash' scams last year – where fraudsters fake accidents by making unnecessary emergency stops at busy roundabouts or slip roads, forcing motorists to crash into them.

They then make bogus claims to the innocent motorist's insurer, often including fictitious injuries and passengers.

Learner drivers have been taken for ride by being unknowingly taught by trainee instructors. An investigation by the AA found up to 27,000 extra driving tests have been failed in the last year because one in 10 learner drivers are unwittingly taught by an instructor they do not know is learning on the job.

July saw the arrest of a Leicester postman who stole £46,686 worth of mail over two-and-a-half years. Yogeshbhai Patel, 38, was jailed for two years for stealing mail including 2,000 DVDs and 2,250 games along with CDs and other electrical equipment. He intercepting the valuable packages and spent the money on living a luxury lifestyle including helicopter rides and a trip to Las Vegas.

The Trading Standards Institute reported over 200 cases where elderly homeowners have been targeted by telephone cold callers, purporting to be from their energy supplier and offering energy saving devices which could cut their bills by 40%.

The TSI tested the devices in homes where owners had fallen for the scam, only to find they both failed to satisfy electrical safety standards or deliver any tangible energy savings.

Thermal cameras that track ATM pin numbers are the latest weapon in their arsenal and US scientists have warned it is the next threat for this form of crime. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that up to 45 seconds after a person types their pin code into an ATM machine or door entry pad the numbers and even the sequence are still readable by thermal cameras.


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