The Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU) has arrested 19 people on suspicion of using a well known malware program to steal millions from bank accounts, according to widespread reports.
The Metropolitan Police unit arrested 15 men and four women aged 23 to 47 in dawn raids on Monday in the London area. The gang is suspected of stealing up to £6m in just three months, according to the reports.
The gang reportedly used the Zeus trojan to infect PCs and record bank log-in details and other information, making it easy to remotely access accounts and transfer funds to bogus accounts.
Detective Chief Inspector Terry Wilson said that the force expects to find more stolen funds as the investigation continues.
"We believe we have disrupted a highly organised criminal network which has used sophisticated methods to siphon large amounts of cash from many innocent people's accounts, causing immense personal anxiety and significant financial harm, which of course banks have had to repay at considerable cost to the economy," he told the Press Association.
"Online banking customers must make sure their security systems are up to date and be alert to any unusual or additional security features requested which is at variance with their normal log-on experience."
Wilson added that greater public awareness and education is needed in the fight against such cyber crime.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, welcomed the news, saying in a blog post that the police "should be applauded for investigating the underground web sites which assist internet fraudsters".
"Arrests like the ones in London don't mean the end of Zeus as it continues to be available for sale to other criminals via underground web sites, but it's still good news for everyone interested in making the internet a safer place. So hats off to the PCeU."
Christian Brindley, online security expert at VeriSign Authentication, pointed out that just this week there have been several Zeus-related threats discovered.
"Anyone can buy a Zeus bot-kit online – meaning that it’s not even necessarily sophisticated cyber criminals who are threatening to steal end users’ personal informationm" he added.
"The first line of defence comes down to the users to protect themselves and take the necessary precautions to secure their data when interacting with businesses and banks online."
However, doubts remain as to whether the PCeU, which was set up in part to fill the gap left by the former National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, has sufficient funding to adequately police the internet.
The unit revealed in June that 30 per cent of its funding from central government will be cut as part of deficit reduction plans.
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