According to complaints unsealed in Manhattan federal court, the cyber-attacks began in Eastern Europe, and included the use of a malware known as the ZeuS Trojan, which was typically sent as an apparently-benign e-mail to computers at small businesses and municipalities in the United States.
Once the email was opened, the malware embedded itself in the victims’ computers, and recorded their keystrokes—including their account numbers, passwords, and other vital security codes—as they logged into their bank accounts online.
The attackers responsible for the malware then used the stolen account information to take over the victims’ bank accounts, and made unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time to receiving accounts controlled by the co-conspirators.
These receiving accounts were set up by a "money mule organization" responsible for retrieving the proceeds of the malware attacks and transporting or transferring the stolen money overseas.
To carry out the scheme, the money mule organization recruited individuals who had entered the United States on student visas, providing them with fake foreign passports, and instructing them to open false-name accounts at U.S. banks.
Once these false-name accounts were successfully opened and received the stolen funds from the accounts compromised by the malware attacks, the "mules" were instructed to transfer the proceeds to other accounts, most of which were overseas, or to withdraw the proceeds and transport them overseas as smuggled bulk cash.
The defendants charged in Manhattan federal court include managers of and recruiters for the money mule organization, an individual who obtained the false foreign passports for the mules, and money mules.
As part of the coordinated takedown earlier today, federal and local law enforcement officers arrested 10 of the defendants. Another 10 were previously arrested. The defendants taken into custody in New York today are expected to be presented in Manhattan federal court later this afternoon. Seventeen defendants are still being sought here and abroad.