Spanish Security forces say they have caught the masterminds behind a computer virus which hijacked the machines of more than 13 million users worldwide. Spanish police arrested three men suspected of building the Mariposa botnet, one of the biggest-ever personal computer-hacking networks. The virus infected computers from homes, universities, companies and government agencies in almost every country in the world. It allowed the theft of credit card data, online banking passwords and other information.
Jose Antonio Berrocal, the head of a Spanish police unit specialising in technology crimes, said: "This is the biggest network of zombie computers ever discovered." The network was so big that it could have been used to stage a "major cyber terrorism attack", police said. The authorities believe the suspected ringleader of the operation and his two alleged partners earned a living by renting out the infected computer network to third parties who used them for criminal purposes. They provided no estimate for how much money could have been stolen from owners of infected computers. Security experts said removing the virus from the affected PCs could cost tens of millions of pounds.
All three suspects are Spanish nationals. They are aged between 25 and 31. While the authorities have dismantled major zombie computer networks in the past, it is rare to catch the people behind them. The authorities found personal data from more than 800,000 computer users on the PC of the suspected ringleader. The machine was seized from his home in Spain's Basque region. Police described the 31-year-old as a "petty criminal" who lived "modestly" from his hacking activities. His two alleged partners, aged 30 and 25, are from Murcia in southeastern Spain and Galicia in the northwest.
The Mariposa network they created, named after the Spanish word for butterfly, was first detected in May 2009 by Canadian information security firm Defence Intelligence, which alerted the FBI. It was shut down in December 2009 - but not before it had infiltrated more than half of the Fortune 1,000 largest US companies and more than 40 major banks, according to investigators.