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Long prison sentences for 'SpyEye' hackers

Two computer hackers have been sentenced to years in prison for their roles in developing and distributing malware used for digital larceny. Cybercriminals infected millions of computers and drained bank accounts.

A US District Court judge in Atlanta handed down prison sentences of nine and a half years to Aleksandr Panin, 27, of Russia and 15 years to Hamza Bendelladj, 27, of Algeria, the US Justice Department said Wednesday.

"Until dismantled by the FBI, SpyEye was the pre-eminent malware banking Trojan from 2010-2012, used by a global syndicate of cybercriminals to infect over 50 million computers, causing close to $1 billion in financial harm to individuals and financial institutions around the globe," the department said.

SpyEye was a type of Trojan virus that implanted itself on victims' computers to steal sensitive information, including bank account credentials, credit card information, passwords and PIN codes.

Once it took over a computer, it allowed hackers to trick victims into surrendering personal information. The information was relayed to the criminals' server to be used to access the victims' accounts.

'Millions of computers affected'

US prosecutor Steven Grimberg said SpyEye was the pre-eminent malware from 2010 to 2012 and was used to infect more than 50 million computers and cause nearly $1 billion in damage to individuals and financial institutions around the world.

Following indictments by a federal grand jury in 2011, SpyEye's primary developer Panin was arrested at an Atlanta airport in 2013 and pleaded guilty in January 2014 to the 23 charges in the indictment, including wire fraud and bank fraud.

His accomplice Bendelladj was arrested in Thailand in January 2013 and extradited later that year to the United States, where in June 2015 he also pleaded guilty to all 23 counts in the indictment.

FBI Special Agent Mark Ray testified that Panin conspired with others to advertise SpyEye in online cybercrime forums and sell versions of the software for up to $10,000 (8,850 euros). Panin is thought to have sold it to more than 150 clients.

The agent said SpyEye was more user-friendly than most and functioned like "a Swiss army knife of hacking," allowing users to customize it to choose specific methods of gathering personal information.

jar/rc (AP, Reuters)