Over the weekend, FBI agents and European counterparts seized control of the network used by hackers to steal personal and financial data. The seizure was intended to protect people from malware (that's "malicious software") known as GameOver Zeus and the less dramatically titled CryptoLocker. The first is designed to search infected computers for banking information, which is then used to steal money through wire transfers. The second finds other types of personal and business information and encrypts it, or locks the machine up entirely. The program then demands hundreds of dollars (or some amount of Bitcoin) from the user — those who don't pay the ransom can lose access to their files forever. According to the New York Times, "Security experts say people have paid untold millions to avoid that fate."
The Guardian reports that CryptoLocker has gotten into at least 234,000 computers, resulting in profits of $27 million in the first two months of activity. GameOver Zeus is thought to be on as many as 1 million machines worldwide. The FBI and Europol have also identified a 30-year-old Russian man named Evgeniy Bogachev as the ringleader of the attacks. He will be placed on the FBI's most-wanted cyber-criminal list, though that probably won't do much to help people who have already fallen victim to his scheme.
BBC News reports that internet service providers have begun notifying customers who have been affected. Meanwhile, all computer users — especially those who tend to click on sketchy-looking attachments or links — are encouraged to make sure that they don't have the malware. Though the authorities have taken over the networks that provide access to the hijacked computers, they estimate that it could take as little as two weeks for the hackers to set up new servers. Just consider this your semi-regular reminder that the internet is full of criminals.