16 cyber hackers detained
Kiev - Agents from Ukraine's national intelligence agency, the SBU, have detained 16 alleged computer hackers accused of having used a computer virus to steal $72m from international accounts, officials said on Thursday.
The detainees, all "young men from the age of 26 to 33 with splendid technical educations", have been interrogated but remain free as no charges have yet been filed against them, said Vitaly Khlevitsky, an SBU spokesperson.
The alleged cyber thieves used an existing computer virus and internet servers in the US, UK, France, Germany, Cyprus and Latvia to identify targets and break into their accounts, he said.
The virus, Conficker, specialises in attacking the Windows computer operating system and shutting down its defensive sub-programs.
The men allegedly used a less virulent virus to infect user software and used automated messages to offer victims an anti-virus programme via the internet.
People responding to the offer received an anti-virus program that removed the first virus, but contained the Conficker virus as well. A launch of the anti-virus program also surreptitiously launched the Conficker virus, which gave the hackers user passwords and account information.
A multinational police task force on Wednesday raided 30 potential server sites in "several" nations and confiscated 74 computers and more than 300 memory devices. More than 40 bank accounts in Latvia and Cyprus are believed to have been used by the hackers to transport stolen funds, Interfax reported.
US officials said its Federal Bureau of Investigation had been monitoring the operations of the purported Ukrainian hacker group for more than three years.
The amount of money stolen by the hackers over that time period could be "substantially more" than $72m, Khlevitsky said.
Ukrainian law stipulates a prison sentence of between three and six years for a person convicted of cyber theft.