Tens of thousands hit by ID theft ring

Security firm has warned that a notorious identity theft operation is still running, having stolen a huge amount of credit card and banking details

An estimated 27,000 people have been affected by an identity theft ring that was discovered earlier this month, according to Sunbelt Software, the security firm that uncovered the operation.

Eric Sites, the vice-president of research and development at Sunbelt, said on Wednesday that some of the Web servers involved in this operation are still operational and continuing to gather personal data from machines that have been infected with the malicious code responsible for the identity theft.

"Some of the Web servers have been shut down and we are still working with the FBI to investigate others," said Sites. "Information is no longer being sent to the one [server] we initially reported on, but there are other variants of this [the malicious code] that send data to other Web sites — these are also being investigated by FBI."

The Secret Service is providing support to the FBI in this investigation, according to Sites.

Sunbelt initially contacted individual users that had been affected by the identity theft ring, but Sites said it is no longer doing this as the company has "collected so much information that it is impossible to go through one by one".

Instead, Sunbelt has sent a list of customers that have been affected to credit card providers Visa and Mastercard, as well as online auction site eBay and its Internet payment system PayPal. It is currently working on sending a similar list to credit card providers Discover and American Express, and will send another list to eBay and PayPal, as it has since gathered more information on the users who have been affected.

Once this is completed, Sunbelt will send a list of customers affected to various banks. The customers of over 50 banks have been affected by this identity theft ring, said Sunbelt in an earlier interview.

Companies and individual Internet users can now protect themselves against the keylogger involved in this identity theft ring , by downloading a free tool from the Sunbelt Web site that detects and removes this malware.