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Huge ‘Andromeda’ botnet running on two million computers taken down by Europol

A massive botnet called ‘Andromeda’ that had infected more than two million computers has been dismantled by Europol in cooperation with the FBI.

A botnet describes a group of computers that have been infected with a virus that allows hackers to control them remotely without the knowledge of their owners.

The joint operation involving Germany, the United States and Belarus started after taking down a delivery platform to launch and manage mass global malware attacks called Avalanche.

The software was used to manage botnets such as Andromeda, and money mule recruitment campaigns.

Insights gained during the Avalanche case by the investigating German law enforcement entities were shared, via Europol, with the FBI and supported this year’s investigations to dismantle the Andromeda malware last week.

The police operation, which involved help from Microsoft, was significant both for the number of infected computers and because Andromeda had been used over a number of years to distribute new viruses, said Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth.

“Andromeda was one of the oldest malwares on the market,” added the spokesman for Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.

Authorities in Belarus said they had arrested a man on suspicion of selling malicious software and also providing technical support services. It did not identify the suspect.

Officers had seized equipment from his offices in Gomel, the second city in Berlaus, and he was cooperating with the investigation, the country’s Investigative Committee said.

Op Gen Oorth said the individual is suspected of being “a ringleader” of a criminal network surrounding Andromeda.

German authorities, working with Microsoft, had taken control of the bulk of the network, so that information sent from infected computers was rerouted to safe police servers instead, a process known as “sinkholing.”

Information was sent to the sinkhole from more than two million unique internet addresses in the first 48 hours after the operation began on 29 November.

Owners of infected computers are unlikely to even know or take action. More than 55 per cent of computers found to be infected in a previous operation a year ago are still infected, Europol said.

The director of the UK’s GCHQ recently said that security services must be as wary of cyber-attacks as they are of traditional threats. 

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