Microsoft has launched a major campaign against online fraudsters and identity thieves, seizing control of a slew of control servers running Zeus botnets.
Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit said that the so-called Operation b71 was its "most complex effort to disrupt botnets to date".
It resulted in the siezure of control servers in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Lombard, Illinois and the filing of lawsuits against as many as 39 unnamed individuals.
But the effort would not mark the end of Zeus botnets, warned Richard Boscovich, a Microsoft senior attorney.
"Due to the unique complexity of these particular targets, unlike our prior botnet takedown operations, the goal here was not the permanent shutdown of all impacted targets," said Boscovich.
"Rather, our goal was a strategic disruption of operations to mitigate the threat in order to cause long-term damage to the cyber criminal organisation that relies on these botnets for illicit gain."
Security experts estimate cyber criminals have used Zeus-based malware to steal millions of pounds worth of personal data, including credit card details and banking credentials.
The Zeus malware kits let criminals set up their own individual botnets and are readily available online for between £440 to £9,500,
"Zeus has been around since at least 2006 and is responsible for hundreds of individual botnets stealing millions of pounds from consumer and business bank accounts," Rik Ferguson, a security researcher at Trend Micro told V3.
While Microsoft's latest efforts will not mark the end of Zeus botnets, the operation provides insight into the extent of the problem, he added.
"The court submission from Microsoft, while it openly states that the identities of the ‘John Does' are currently unknown, does go a long way towards exposing the huge infrastructure behind crimeware of this nature," Ferguson said.
The news comes just days after IBM researchers released a paper reporting a marked evolution in the complexity and organisational structure of cyber crime.
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