Omaha cast net that caught cyberthieves

Imagine for a moment that you are the chief financial officer of a small American business.

You are sitting at your desk sometime in 2009. You are doing your job. You are answering emails.

Here’s one from the Internal Revenue Service with the subject line “Tax Statement” and a message about underreported income. Don’t want to get crosswise with the IRS, you think, and click on a link.

The link leads to nothing. You try again. Still nothing.

Odd, you think. Then you immediately forget about it.

Several weeks or months later, you are sitting at your desk, doing your job, when the phone rings.

It’s an agent from the Omaha office of the FBI.

He asks: Did you just authorize a withdrawal of $30,000 into a personal checking account?

No, you say, as your eyes widen and your pulse quickens. Why?

This is how you learn you’ve been robbed.

And not just robbed, but robbed repeatedly. Robbed so stealthily, so completely, that you didn’t even realize the money was missing.

This, roughly, is how dozens of small businesses and nonprofits — even an Iowa Catholic diocese — learned from the Omaha office of the FBI in 2009 and 2010 about a group of Ukrainian hackers, malicious software named Zeus and a plan to steal $70 million seemingly ripped from the pages of a futuristic thriller.

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