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The National Crime Agency is warning of a severe cyber-attack after a virus was used to access online banking details and steal millions of pounds from UK bank accounts.
An estimated £20m has been pinched in the UK, but the virus, known as Dridex, may be responsible for losses of $100m globally, reports The Guardian.
The hackers have used what is being described as "particularly virulent" malware to gain access to people's computers. It records the login details used to access online banking services, allowing the attackers to then steal from bank accounts.
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It is believed that the criminals are based in Eastern Europe. Last month, cyber analyst Brian Honan told SC Magazine, a publication for IT security professionals: "From a European point of view the majority of financial-based cyber-attacks does come from Eastern Europe, Russian-based cyber-gangs."
The top-secret electronic security centre at GCHQ is investigating the cyber-attack, alongside the UK's national Computer Emergency Response Team. The agencies are joined by others around the world including the FBI, the European police agency Europol and law enforcement in Germany and Moldova.
The National Crime Agency fears this could be one of the worst cyber-attacks it has ever seen. "There could be thousands of infected computers in the UK, the majority being Windows users," it said.
The agency has advised the public to visit the GetSafeOnline website, where anti-virus tools can be downloaded to clean up infected machines.
The FBI has also encouraged the public to take steps to protect themselves. "We urge all internet users to take action and update your operating system," said executive assistant director Robert Anderson. "Ensure you have up-to-date security software and think twice before clicking on links or attachments in unsolicited emails."