Zeus hackers could steal corporate secrets too

Victims now being asked where they work by notorious malware

Criminals who use the Zeus banking crimeware may be working on an new angle: corporate espionage.

That's what worries Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who has been closely monitoring the various criminal groups that use Zeus. Zeus typically steals online banking credentials and then uses that information to move money out of Internet accounts. In the past year, however, Warner has seen some Zeus hackers also try to figure out what companies their victims work for.

In some cases, the criminals will pop up a fake online bank login screen that asks the victim for a phone number and the name of his employer. In online forums, he's seen hackers speculate about how they might be able to sell access to computers associated with certain companies or government agencies.

"They want to know where you work," he said. "Your computer may be worth exploring more deeply because it may provide a gateway to the organization."

That's worrisome because Zeus could be a very powerful tool for stealing corporate secrets. It lets the criminals remotely control their victims' computers, scanning files and logging passwords and keystrokes. With Zeus, hackers can even tunnel through their victim's computer to break into corporate systems.

There are other reasons why Zeus's creators might want to know where you work, however. They could simply be trying to figure out whose data is the most valuable, said Paul Ferguson, a security researcher with Trend Micro. "A welding business might make more money, than say, a Girl Scout troop," he said via instant message.

Still, Ferguson believes that the crooks could make money by selling access to computers belonging to employees of certain companies. "I haven't personally seen that, but these guys are pretty devious."

This type of targeted corporate espionage has become a big problem in recent years, and many companies, including Google and Intel, have been hit with this type of attack.

Police arrested more than 100 alleged members of a Zeus gang last week, but that doesn't put an end to the problem. Zeus is widely sold for criminal use, and security experts say that there are dozens of other Zeus gangs out there. The group responsible for last year's Kneber worm outbreak is thought to be the largest Zeus outfit still in operation.

If Zeus operators really do start promoting their crimeware as corporate back-doors -- and Warner believes this is already happening -- that could mean new problems for corporate IT.

The biggest issue would be for home computers and laptops that are outside of corporate firewalls that still have access to company data via the Internet. Those systems could suddenly become a risk for IT staffers, Warner said.

Inside the firewall, a computer that suddenly starts sending data to Russia should be noticed right away. That might not be the case on a home network. "If you are an employee of a place that gives you access to sensitive data, your company needs to care if you have a malware infection at home," Warner said.

The problem could be solved by either not letting people work from their home PCs or by providing workers with computers that can only be used for work, Warner said.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags University of Alabama at Birminghamsecuritylegalmalwarecybercrime

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?