Zeus Trojan found on 74,000 PCs in global botnet

NetWitness uncovers 18-month-old attack designed to steal credentials for banks, social networks, and e-mail.

Elinor Mills
Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
2 min read

More than 74,000 PCs at nearly 2,500 organizations around the globe were compromised over the past year and a half in a botnet infestation designed to steal login credentials to bank sites, social networks, and e-mail systems, a security firm said Wednesday.

The systems were infected with the Zeus Trojan and the botnet was dubbed "Kneber" after a username that linked the infected PCs on corporate and government systems, according to NetWitness.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Merck, Cardinal Health, Paramount Pictures, and Juniper Networks were among the targets in the attack. NetWitness speculated that criminals in Eastern Europe using a command-and-control server in Germany sent attachments containing the malware in e-mails or links to the malware on Web sites that employees within the companies clicked on.

NetWitness said it discovered more than 75 gigabytes worth of stolen data during routine analytic tasks as part of an evaluation of a client network on January 26. The cache of stolen data included 68,000 corporate login credentials, access to e-mail systems, online banking sites, Facebook, Yahoo, Hotmail, 2,000 SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate files and data on individuals, NetWitness said in a statement and in a whitepaper available for download from its Web site.

In addition to stealing specific data, Zeus can be used to search for and steal any file on the computer, download and execute programs and allow someone to remotely control the computer.

More than half of the compromised machines were also infected with peer-to-peer bot malware called Waledac, the company said. Nearly 200 countries were affected, with most of the infections found in Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

The news comes after Google announced an attack targeting it and what is believed to be more than 30 other companies and which was linked back to China. McAfee dubbed that attack "Operation Aurora."

"While Operation Aurora shed light on advanced threats from sponsored adversaries, the number of compromised companies and organizations pales in comparison to this single botnet," said Amit Yoran, chief executive of NetWitness and former Director of the National Cyber Security Division. "These large-scale compromises of enterprise networks have reached epidemic levels."