Virus clears cash from bank accounts

IRISH bank officials are working with their British and US counterparts to counter the threat of a new computer virus which can empty customers’ accounts while covering its tracks by showing the customer fake bank balances.

The new version of the computer trojan virus Zeus, which cannot be detected by most firewalls, is believed to have already resulted in about 3,000 customers of a British bank losing nearly €1 million since early July.

Irish Payment Services Organisation Limited (IPSO) spokeswoman Una Dillon said: “We have not seen Zeus here yet. We work closely with our British counterparts in the UK payments council and they are working very hard on this threat and identifying which accounts have been compromised.”

She added: “We have a group in Ireland which similarly monitors accounts, the hi-tech crime fraud forum, which is managed by the Irish banking federation.

“This body includes several technical experts from banks and the cyber crime unit, with experts from UCD.

“We tend to shut down malware and trojan problems quickly here because we work closely with experts in the US and Britain where they tend to surface first. We are in the lucky position that we often find out about these problems before they are here and can take preventive measures.”

Experts believe many of the frauds originate with Eastern European crime gangs. These are sophisticated groups, which may even pay for members to go to university to train in technological expertise.

Irish banks said they are currently unaware of the Zeus virus directly affecting customers here but have seen an increase in problems related to malware and trojan computer viruses.

AIB spokesman Ronan Sheridan said they are involved in a constant battle to protect customer accounts, with criminals constantly increasing the sophistication of their scams.

“One thing we did some years ago was create the code card, which is needed to access some features of online banking. Some fraudsters are now trying to access these numbers by emailing people looking for the details.”

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