A high-tech Eastern European crime gang is charged with infecting four million computers with malware that hijacked unsuspecting users' computers, redirecting their Internet searches to web ads controlled by the gang.
Seven people are charged in the malware crime that reached across more than 100 countries and netted them $14 million. The FBI said the suspects made $14 million when web-based ads on their websites were suddenly getting a huge increase in traffic and clicks.
“These defendants give new meaning to the term ‘false advertising,’” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, adding the gang re-routed individuals to “Internet websites and advertisements of their own choosing.”
More than 500,000 of the infected computers were in the United States. Government agencies like NASA were affected as were computers owned by businesses and individuals. Six suspects in Estonia and one Russian national were charged.
Victims' computers became infected when they visited certain sites or downloaded certain software to watch videos online.
One example of the so-called "click hijacking" is when a customer tried to go to the official Apple iTunes web site, he would instead be directed to a non-affiliated website that claimed to be selling similar software or songs. Another ad redirected would-be Netflix customers to a firm called "Budget Match."
The suspects are charged with wire fraud and computer intrusion crimes. The FBI on Tuesday disabled the network of U.S.-based computers the gang allegedly used. Those networks were based in New York and Chicago.