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The groups used recent improvements to two families of existing malicious software, known as Zeus and SpyEye, which lodged on the computers of clients at 60 banks.
While previous versions of the software have proved adept at stealing logon information, the latest variants automate the subsequent transfer of funds to accounts controlled by accomplices.
The findings, to be released on Tuesday by security firms McAfee and Guardian Analytics, confirmed and expanded on research from Japan-based Trend Micro Inc that was first reported last week by Reuters. "This looks like the beginning of a new technique," said Guardian's Vice President Craig Priess, whose firm specializes in protecting banks.
The software is sophisticated enough to defeat "chip and PIN" and other two-factor authentication and to avoid transferring the entire contents of an account at one time, which can trigger review, according to the study. Trend Micro said it had seen the automated versions in action in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy.