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The Zeus trojan is unquestionably the world’s most widespread malware. Incredibly destructive and able to get even into the computers of government agencies and massive servers, Zeus was behind some of the biggest hacks of this century.
Many victims didn’t even realize their PCs were infected before it was too late; that’s how much of a threat this malware is.
In this article, we’ll go through the history of the Zeus trojan, explain why it has become so widespread, and explain what makes it so dangerous. Finally, we’ll teach you how to detect if your computer is in danger and what precautions you can take so you don’t fall victim to this malicious software.
What is the Zeus Trojan?
Zeus Trojan, or Zbot as it’s often called, is a malware package that can be used for various malicious purposes, including stealing banking information and installing ransomware.
It first became prominent in 2007 when it was used in an attack on the United States Department of Transportation. Later, Zeus infected millions of computers, creating one of the biggest botnets.
In 2009, the malware started spreading like wildfire. It was targeting machines running on the Microsoft Windows operating system. At one point, a malware infection was detected in over 74,000 FTP accounts on some of the world’s most considerable servers.
This included corporations like Oracle, Cisco, Amazon, Bank of America, and NASA. During this time, the trojan infected over 3 million Windows computers in the US alone.
The Zeus trojan has also been used in technical support scams across Eastern Europe, where victims were tricked into thinking their computers were infected with a virus. As a result, many people were persuaded to give money to the scammers using it.
The sole purpose of this malware was to siphon funds out of its victims’ accounts and into the pockets of its creators. It used so-called “money mules,” phantom accounts forwarding funds to other accounts, thus obfuscating the money trail.
Additionally, Zeus led to the creation of Gameover ZeuS botnets, massive networks of infected computers that bad actors could operate remotely through a command and control server. These were then used to launch DDoS attacks, send spam messages, and engage in phishing campaigns to infect even more computers with malicious code.
Ultimately, the group behind the Zbot trojan was arrested in October 2010 by the FBI. It comprised 100 people from the US, the UK, and Ukraine. When they were taken down, hackers could have stolen $70 million from their victims. Three years later, the supposed mastermind behind Zeus was arrested in Thailand.
Still, this didn’t stop the spread of the malware, as the original Zeus source code was already publicly available, and new strains would keep popping up.
The Inner Workings of the Zeus Virus
This banking trojan infects a user’s computer and uses that user’s machine as a “bot” or “zombie.” This means the attacker can control the user’s machine remotely without the user’s knowledge. Once a machine has been infected and has become a part of the Zeus botnet, the attacker can use it to carry out various malicious tasks.
The original Zeus malware was mainly spread through drive-by downloads and phishing schemes. In a drive-by download, the user visits a website compromised by the attacker. The attacker then uses exploit code to silently install the Zeus code on the user’s machine.
Phishing attacks consisted of numerous phishing emails where the attacker appeared to be coming from a legitimate website or organization. The emails would include a file that, when opened, would unload the package on the target machine. It usually looks like legitimate software or a document, tricking even computer-savvy people.
Zeus is designed to steal sensitive information from its victims, specifically financial data. The typical Zero trojan behavior consists of several actions:
- Keystroke logging: Zeus records everything you type on your keyboard, including passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data. This information is returned to the attacker, who can use it to commit financial fraud or identity theft.
- Form grabbing: Zeus can also intercept data you enter into online forms on legitimate websites, such as those used for online banking or shopping. Malicious actors are after financial information, a phishing method for credit card numbers.
- Installing ransomware: The malware has been used to spread and install ransomware on its targets, encrypting data—a devastating attack, as it prevents people from accessing their essential files and data.
- Botnet creation: As mentioned before, Zeus attacks were a method of botnet creation, causing infected computers to spread the malicious code even further across the internet, infecting millions of computers.
This all makes Zeus a hazardous piece of malware.
Zeus Trojan: Protection and Precautions
You can take several steps to protect yourself from Zeus and similar trojan infections.
First, you should ensure your operating system and Windows antivirus apps are up to date on all your machines. Modern antiviruses have become good at detecting trojan software, and thanks to Zeus’s notoriety, antivirus software developers made sure that this particular trojan never gets through.
It would be best if you also practiced safe browsing. That means ignoring or blocking online ads and avoiding downloads from suspicious websites. Learn to recognize phishing attempts, as that’s how trojans and ransomware usually spread. Double-check the sender address, and don’t install unknown apps on your computer.
Remove stored passwords from your browser to protect yourself against the Zeus trojan. It’s better to use a password manager instead and avoid reusing your passwords across multiple websites. This is a good cybersecurity practice in general, but especially important for preventing ID theft via trojans.
Speaking of password security, using a two-factor authentication (2FA) tool is a must. This way, even if bad actors somehow get ahold of your login information, they still can’t access your account, as you’ll need to verify each login attempt manually.
Detecting and Removing the Zeus Trojan From Your Computer
There’s a big difference between an actual Zeus attack and the Zeus.2022 pop-up message that claims your computer is infected. The latter is a known scam via adware to make you click on the banner. By thinking you’re getting rid of the virus, you’ll infect your computer with more malware instead.
But if you do detect the Zeus trojan on your computer, don’t fret. Every virus infection, even such a drastic one, can be mitigated. Here are the steps you need to take to get rid of it:
- Download and install antivirus software. You can find some recommendations on our website, which are all highly reputable apps.
- Reboot your computer into Safe Mode and disable the internet connection.
- Run a full antivirus scan to detect and remove the Zeus trojan from your computer.
- Once the scanning and cleaning process is complete, reboot back into your OS.
- Check your online and banking accounts for any changes and report them. Also, update all your passwords once Zeus is out of your computer.
There haven’t been many viruses or trojans as infamous as Zeus. Luckily, its reign of terror is long gone thanks to improved malware detection, but not before it managed to wreak havoc across multiple organizations and dozens of servers. This guide will protect you against newer Zeus variants and similar cyber attacks. Stay safe!