By Jay Fidell
Wonders never cease to amaze, especially in the social engineering fraud department. Now, since last September, there’s been an incredible new fraud on the Internet. It’s called CryptoLocker. It’s a new genre of malware called ransomware, and here’s the way it works.
Ok you get email suggesting you click on what appears to be a PDF file with an attachment. You haven’t head about this, and you click. Then you find it’s really an executable fie, and the trouble begins. A CryptoLocker program is immediately downloaded that starts encrypting everything on your computer. It happens right in front of your eyes, which makes it all the more sickening.
Your files are now tied up tight by a sophisticated encryption, one that only the bad guys can de-encrypt. The bad guys probably live in the Ukraine. The result is that all the files on your computer are being held for ransom and, indeed, then you get a ransom note. Perfect.
They tell you that for $300 they will give you a key to de-encrypt your files. The payment is made by prepaid bitcoins or made otherwise anonymous. Happily, so far, according to the FBI, 90 percent of the people who pay them do get their files de-encrypted.
Before, if you didn’t pay them within 72 hours, you would lose your chance at de-encryption. Last week, they changed that. Now, if you don’t pay them within 72 hours the price goes up five times. Very creative, and mean. The problem is that this is totally invasive, and involves not only personal files, but business and financial files. If you don’t play it right, you could lose them forever.
So both you and your business will be held hostage, and you’d better pay the $300 and hope they don’t get stopped before they can de-encrypt your files. You actually want them to stay in business until they can send you the de-encryption key. If they run away, go out of business or are otherwise stopped, your files will stay encrypted, and you’ll be whistling for them.
So far, the FBI hasn’t been able to stop them, whoever and wherever they are. In the past we had wise guys doing computer viruses for fun. Now it’s different, and more like methodical, widespread if not global extortion. This is serious business. Estimates are that these guys have already bilked people out of some $27 million.
Wow. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside again, you need to know that it’s still a jungle out there. If the American NSA doesn’t get your stuff, the Eastern European hackers will. This is just another reason to back up your files, not to the same machine but to another machine or network or to the cloud.
The latest is that Norton and others say they have a fix that will allow you to de-encrypt the files. If you get hit, it's probably worth trying the Norton anyway, but gee at this point I'd be careful on clicking on any link you're not sure of.