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Three alleged hackers arrested in Spain

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March 4, 2010

Police in Spain have arrested three alleged hackers suspected of infecting over 13 million PCs and corporate workstations with malicious software that allowed them to steal personal and financial data on a global basis, Madrid's Civil Guards said earlier this morning.

The authorities in Spain worked with the FBI and various computer security firms in Canada, the United States and Spain to investigate what an official called the world's largest network of virus-infected bots and computers.

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In addition to gaining illegal access to personal and financial data, the hackers' viruses would have permitted those controlling the system to mount a huge cyberattack from the infected computers, an FBI official said.

In all, police found computer and personal information from more than 800,000 users in a search of the computers at suspects' homes, the Civil Guards' statement said.

The hackers "copied personal and financial information of individuals, companies and official institutions in more than 190 countries," the statement said.

The suspects, ages 31, 30 and 25, respectively, were arrested Feb. 25 in Spain's northern Vizcaya province. Authorities didn't immediately release their identities or further details about them.

Computer hacking was first detected in May 2009 by the Canadian firm Defence Intelligence, which quickly enlisted the aid of Spain's Panda Security firm and the Georgia Tech Information Security Center in Atlanta, Georgia, the statement said.

The FBI soon determined that a Spanish citizen was involved and alerted the Civil Guards. Authorities concluded that the suspects had bought virus software to use in their crimes.

Spanish authorities also discovered the identity of the 31-year-old suspect, who used the alias "hamlet1917," and made the arrest in the town of Balmaseda, in Vizcaya province.

A search of all the computers found there led to the other two suspects, the statement said.

By December 2009, investigators had identified practically all of the control channels for the pirated computer network and "proceeded in a coordinated way internationally to block the domains that were being used," the statement said.

The domains were mainly in two U.S. and one Spanish service providers.

In a counterattack, the suspects (probably as an act of revenge) carried out a cyberattack against the Canadian firm investigating them. The attack seriously affected its Internet service provider and left numerous clients without any connection, including Canadian universities and government offices, the statement said.

However, that counterattack also allowed criminal investigators to determine the rest of the control channels for the alleged scheme, which were finally blocked as well, except for a few servers that controlled a relatively smaller number of PCs.

The hackers were to appear before Judge Garzon at Spain's National Court in Madrid because of the broad implications of the virus-infected computers, the statement said.

Authorities in Spain are also investigating whether a fourth suspect, possibly a Venezuelan national, might also be involved, police in Madrid said.

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Source: Madrid's Civil Guard.

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