It’s fall, the season of Halloween, and Slate recently ran a truly terrifying story. It centered on the rise of “ransomware,” a new form of malware that is truly creepy, and, unfortunately, very efficient. According to Slate, this is how this particular hack works: You either click on an infected web page or a link in an email message and your computer screen turns gray. A browser window then appears complete with the FBI logo in its top left corner. Under that is a live webcam feed with a picture of a face, yours.
That’s shocking. What happens next is far worse. You’ll see a message on your screen accusing you of downloading files illegally in violation of federal copyright laws. The message states that you need to either pay a fine or face up to three years in prison. You’re then given 48 to 72 hours to pay this fine—often, as Slate reports, by buying a prepaid cash card—to avoid facing criminal charges. The message also states that you will be locked out of your machine permanently if you don’t pay.
A real threat
The part about your violation is a scam, and it is just a way for these thieves to make money. Nevertheless, there is one piece of this that is very harmful. You could be locked out of your computer if you don’t pay says a senior security advisor quoted by Slate. So would it be wiser to just pay their demands? Which is usually in the $100 range. Even if you did pay, there is no telling whether or not they will unlock your computer. They may just demand more money.
McAfee, the well-known maker of antivirus software, reported that it recorded more than 120,000 new types of ransomware attacks in the second quarter of 2012. How to protect yourself? The same way you protect yourself from any type of malicious code. Make certain you have antivirus software installed on your computer. Just as significantly, don’t visit suspicious websites, illegally download files to your computer, or click on strange links in email addresses.
However, if you do become a victim of ransomware you will probably need to speak to a security expert to unlock your computer. Another option is to contact the real FBI here www.ic3.gov and file a complaint.