Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged six Estonian men and one Russian man with orchestrating a vast Internet scam that involved infecting more than 4 million computers around the globe with malicious software and collecting money from online advertisements.
The prosecutors said the scheme involved duping computer owners into downloading malicious software, or malware, that would hijack Internet searches and replace standard online ads with ones that the defendants could profit from. Searches for terms like â€œIRSâ€ and â€œiTunesâ€ on an infected computer would send the user to sites that would pay the scammers a referral fee, prosecutors said. The scheme brought in at least $14 million over a period of five years, they said.
â€œOn a mass scale, this gave new meaning to the term false advertising,â€ said Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, during a news conference in Manhattan.
The malware also blocked the installation of anti-virus software and operating system updates on infected computers, rendering them unable to counter the malicious software and leaving them vulnerable to other attacks from computer viruses.
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