Irish firms 'held to ransom' in €100m computer heist
Irish computer users have been warned to ensure their PCs are up to date with security protection after a deadly computer virus resulted in over €100m being stolen in cybertheft.
IT security experts say that thousands of PCs have also been destroyed as a result of malware created and released by a criminal gang spearheaded by a Russian man, named by the FBI as Evgeniy Bogachev.
The malware has principally taken the form of ransomware that locks users out of their machines and demands payment. Failure to comply usually results in the destruction of files and documents on the PC.
"We have received reports from all over Ireland from small firms with an average of 15 computers each that have been hit by ransomware in the past months," said Urban Schrott, an analyst with IT security firm Eset Ireland.
"If you have poor security, no antivirus software in place, that's all the cybercriminals need to infect a single computer, which then spreads the infection across the network, locking all the company's files until a ransom is paid."
IT experts are also warning that there is a window of two weeks within which PC users should clean up their machines.
Since last Friday, US and European authorities have been mounting a counteroffensive, which has disrupted the cybercriminal servers.
"But while this blow is effective, it is not permanent and we expect the malicious networks to return to their former strength within weeks, if not days," said Rik Ferguson, IT security executive with Trend Micro.
The man behind the criminal gang thought to be responsible for the attacks was named by the FBI as Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, who also used the online monikers "lucky12345" and "slavik".
"(His) software was used to capture bank account numbers, passwords, personal identification numbers, and other information necessary to log into online banking accounts," said a notice on the FBI's website.
"Victims who visited compromised websites were infected with the malware, which Bogachev and others utilised to steal money from the victims' bank accounts."
PC users are now being warned to take care of security basics.
"For individuals, don't underestimate how important simple things like updating all your software and applications, which will help to protect you," said Jason Steer, director of technology at Cork-based FireEye Security.
"Installing the most up- to-date anti-virus engines and signatures, that should have the relevant detection and removal tools to help you remove the crimeware, will also protect you from any variants relating to it in the future."