Officials at Sunbelt Software Inc., a vendor of antispyware tools, said the company stumbled upon a massive ID theft ring that is using a well-known spyware program to break into and systematically steal confidential information from an unknown number of computers worldwide.

The operation was discovered recently during research Sunbelt was doing on a spyware program belonging to a particularly dangerous class of browser hijacking tools called CoolWebSearch (CWS), according to Sunbelt’s president, Alex Eckelberry.

CWS programs are extremely hard to detect and remove, and are used to redirect users to Web sites that use spyware tools to collect a variety of information from infected computers. The CWS variant being researched by Sunbelt turned infected systems into spam zombies and uploaded a wide variety of personal information to a remote server apparently located in the U.S. That server holds a “treasure trove of information” for ID thieves, Eckelberry said.

Sunbelt’s research showed that the information being uploaded to the remote server included chat sessions, user names, passwords and bank information. Many of the records being uploaded also contained eBay account information. Among the highly personal bits of information Sunbelt was able to retrieve from the server were one family’s vacation plans, instructions to a limo driver to pick up passengers from an airport and details about a computer user with a penchant for pedophilia.

“It’s one of the most egregious things we have ever seen,” said Eckelberry.

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