United States District Judge Arthur Schwab ruled the Justice Department will continue to intercept information from 350,000 computers worldwide which have been infected with a data-stealing virus spread by an alleged Russian computer hacker and his conspirators, The Associated Press reported.
Justice Department attorneys said the affected computers will remain linked to a government-provided substitute Internet server until the malicious software can be removed, according to the AP.
The substitute server lets the government track the Internet addresses of the infected computers and pass them on to Internet service providers or government agencies in countries, so that computer-owners can be alerted to infections, the AP reported.
Authorities in nearly a dozen countries worked with private security companies to get control of the network of infected machines, known by the name of its master software, Gameover Zeus, according to the AP.
Court documents released on Monday said that between 500,000 and 1 million machines worldwide were infected with the malicious software, which was derived from the original "Zeus" trojan for stealing financial passwords that emerged in 2006, the AP reported.
Officials charged a Russian man with hacking, fraud and money-laundering, and court documents suggested they suspect he wrote Zeus, one of the most effective pieces of theft software ever found, according to the AP. In addition to stealing from the online accounts of businesses and consumers, the Gameover Zeus crew installed other malicious programs, including one called Cryptolocker that encrypted files and demanded payments for their release.
Cryptolocker alone infected more than 234,000 machines and won $27 million in ransom payments in just its first two months, the Justice Department said, the AP reported.
The two programs together brought the gang more than $100 million, prosecutors said in court documents, including $198,000 in an unauthorized wire transfer from an unnamed Pennsylvania materials company and $750 in ransom from a police department in Massachusetts that had its investigative files encrypted, according to the AP.
"These schemes were highly sophisticated and immensely lucrative, and the cyber criminals did not make them easy to reach or disrupt," Leslie Caldwell, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division, told a news conference, the AP reported.