How the bad guys did it: Thousands of Ohioans hacked, up to $35M stolen


One errant button click. That’s all it takes for a computer or mobile device to be infected or hacked.

Just by getting people to click on malicious e-mail attachments, an international crime ring set in motion a scheme that infected more than 60,000 individual computers, sent out 11 million malicious emails and defrauded people of up to $35 million, according to federal authorities and security experts.

The case illustrates that malicious software lurks in cyberspace, disguised as innocent-looking links and programs.

It also underscores the fact that consumers have little room for error online, considering their devices and personal information are at stake.

“You as a consumer — you have to be right every time,” said Mike Tobin, spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio. “You click on something once, and you’re hit with it.”

RELATED: These passwords will get you hacked

The e-mails looked legitimate, as they so often do in criminal hacking cases.

They purported to be from Western Union, Norton and the IRS. The messages contained attachments, alleging to be cash receipts and other notices.

But when people clicked on the attached files, they unknowingly installed malicious software on their devices, which was dubbed the “Bayrob Trojan,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio.

The Bayrob Trojan allowed a group of Romanian nationals to infect between 60,000 and 160,000 computers and send out 11 million malicious emails, according to Symantec, a leading cybersecurity firm that assisted authorities with the case.

The victims, which included residents from many Ohio communities, were defrauded of at least $4 million, federal authorities said. Symantec says the losses actually could be as much as $35 million over eight years.

RELATED: Millions feel the sting of identity theft

The malicious software obtained people’s stored contacts and sent out infected e-mails or instant messages to those targets.

The Trojan also allowed the suspects to intercept user names and passwords and helped them steal the credit card information of more than 500 people, authorities said.

When victims would try to log onto Facebook, PayPal, eBay and other websites, they were redirected to nearly identical but fake sites created by the hackers, authorities said.

When victims tried to purchase goods that were listed on the phony pages, they were charged for items they never received, court documents show. The malware helped steal people’s login credentials and passwords.

“The group is responsible for stealing up to $35 million from victims through auto auction scams, credit card fraud and computer intrusions,” Jeff Greene, senior director of government affair and policy with Symantec Corp., told a Congressional subcommittee earlier this month.

RELATED: Identity theft victims tell their stories

Last year, Romanian nationals Bogdan Nicolescu, Tiberiu Danet and Radu Miclaus were extradited to the United States after being arrested overseas.

They were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit service marks.

They also were charged with aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.

The Bayrob malware had multiple versions that evolved from online fraud to a botnet of 300,000 computers that primarily mined digital currency at the victims’ expense, Greene said.

Botnets are networks of private computers infected with malicious software that are controlled as a group without their owners’ knowledge.

Symantec through a decade-long research campaign helped uncover the Bayrob crime ring and assist federal and Romanian authorities build their case against its members, Greene said.

The gang recruited money mules and went to great lengths to make the scams appear legitimate, officials said.

Their fake eBay pages included fictitious feedback about sellers, and they set up phony phone lines and voicemail service to string victims along until their payments went through, according to Symantec.

Technology is wondrously useful, but it also gives criminals in distant places, like Romania, opportunities to trick and steal from Ohioans, Tobin said.

“You rob banks, because that’s where the money is,” Tobin said. “Well, the money is now on our phones and our computers.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine urges Ohioans to be cautious when they connect to and browse the Internet.

DeWine, who was not speaking about this particular case, said citizens should ignore and delete links and messages from unknown sources and be wary of messages directing people to verify an account or enter their passwords.

“If you don’t know what something is before you click it, don’t click it,” DeWine said. “Don’t automatically click things.”

MORE: Hacking the ballot: How safe is your vote?



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

The Kid Whisperer: What to do about the child who cries, cries, cries

Dear Kid Whisperer, I’m curious about crying tantrums. We have a strong-willed 6-year old girl who cries about everything lately. She cries over us not buying a toy or what she eats for breakfast. I offer her a hug, tell her I am sad that she is sad and tell her that it’s too loud and we can’t hear each other. I am gentle and loving...
Student of the Week Emmanuel Christian Academy
Student of the Week Emmanuel Christian Academy

Name: Matthias Tedros School: Emmanuel Christian Academy Grade: 12 Age: 16 Extra-curricular: JV/Varsity Hockey, Varsity Soccer, Varsity Lacrosse, Volunteer at Hospital, Front of House job at NTPRD Chiller, Piano, Guitar, Alto and Bari Saxophone Claim to fame/honors: Lacrosse: First Academic Team, Academic Scholar Award, Hockey: First Academic Team...
Athlete of the Week Emmanuel Christian Academy
Athlete of the Week Emmanuel Christian Academy

Name: Dylan Herring School: Emmanuel Christian Academy Grade: 12 Age: 17 Sports: Golf, Bowling, Baseball Claim to fame/honors: MBC Bowling Player of the Year, State Bowling Honorable Mention Words you live by: “There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do - and I believe...
Shutdown: Uncertainty plagues civil servants, WPAFB workers, businesses
Shutdown: Uncertainty plagues civil servants, WPAFB workers, businesses

Employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will report to work on Monday for further instructions. On Main Street in downtown Fairborn Saturday night there were a lot of questions about the partial shutdown, from workers who may be at risk of furlough to businesses those workers visit. “It’s definitely uncertainty,” Casey Hudson...
New Fairfield Vice Mayor ‘looking forward’ to new role
New Fairfield Vice Mayor ‘looking forward’ to new role

Fairfield Vice Mayor Craig Keller said he’s “looking forward” to serving alongside Mayor Steve Miller for the next year, leading both the city council and the city of Fairfield. Miller made Keller, who’s entering his third year as the Second Ward City Council member, vice mayor for 2018. “It means a lot to serve under...
More Stories