In the cybersphere, the Trojan Horse malware Zeus has taken on a popular mythology worthy of its namesake. A malicious strain that worms its way into bank accounts and extracts funds, Zeus has been enjoying something of a free reign since it was first detected in 2008.
Over the years, there have been many arrests of criminals accused of using the virus to carry out attacks. Yet the virus itself endures, and even grows stronger. When it comes to enterprise security, Zeus perfectly illustrates why defense is better than offense.
How Can You Fight An Army?
Organized crime — if the moves are right — often follows a family line, with sons bearing the torch of mafia fathers and cousins coming out of the woodwork to assume the mantle when their brethren head to the slammer.
Zeus works the exact same way. It is, as The Guardian pointed out, a self-perpetuating operation, with many different iterations that are all connected by a familial thread. Unfortunately for its victims, that thread has an extreme aptitude at burrowing into user accounts and extracting funds.
When it first appeared on the scene, security researchers noted the covert nature of Zeus’ operation. While the idea of a third party attacker hiding in an otherwise normal email seems like an old hat these days, back in 2008 it was a novel threat.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2009, security expert Graham Cluley said that what made Zeus so formidable was its broad reach, and the fact that pinning it down in the hope of destroying it would simply be an impossibility.
“It’s not just a single piece of malicious software — it’s a family with many different members, all adopting different disguises in their attempt to infect users, and steal information that could allow hackers to break into your bank account and social networking profiles,” he said.
Not only does Zeus stealthily find its way into an enterprise or personal computing system, but it also knows how to stay there undetected. As a result, many computers infected with the bug unwittingly become portals through which continued criminal activity can occur.
Zeus is Larger than the Criminals Who Use It
When investigators like the FBI launch an attack against malware like Zeus, they focus on identifying human culprits. And when it comes to Zeus, this isn’t hard to do: The malware is in vast circulation among many different criminal enterprises.
But as a series of large-scale arrests have proven, taking down bad guys has done virtually nothing to stop Zeus from spreading. In October 2010, the FBI revealed that the Secret Service of the Ukraine had taken into custody five people suspecting of netting $70 million from Zeus encroachments, according to SC Magazine.
This may seem like a sizable chunk of money, but it’s just the tip of the Iceberg when it comes to Zeus. And as another SC Magazine piece recently pointed out, the bug has just grown stronger with the years.
For businesses, a strong line of identity-protecting measures can keep a Zeus attack at bay. With a strong authentication system in place, any enterprise limits its risk of attack significantly.