It’s fall, the season of Halloween, and Slate recently ran a truly terrifying story. It focused on the rise of “ransomware,” a new form of malware that is truly creepy, and, sad to say, very efficient. According to Slate, this is how this specific 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.
If that wasn’t unnerving enough, the next part is even scarier. You will then receive a message on your screen informing you that you have violated federal copyright laws. You are given two choices, pay a fine, or deal with three years in prison. You are then given a deadline with which to pay the fine, usually this is 48 to 72 hours. The message further threatens you by saying you’ll get locked out of your computer permanently if you don’t pay.
A real threat
Of course, the criminal charges bit of this scam is fake, but the threat of coping with a totally locked computer is real, at least based on a senior security advisor quoted by Slate. That begs the question, should you simply pay the fine—usually in the $100 range—and hope that the hackers driving this scam unlock your computer? Probably not, according to the Slate story. After all, once these criminals have your money, what motivation do they have to actually unlock your computer? And how do you know that they won’t target your computer again in the future even after you pay up?
So how do you protect yourself and your computer against this new type of malware? The same way you have been, keep your antivirus software up-to-date, and don’t click on any suspicious links.
However, if you do become a victim of ransomware you will probably need to speak to a security expert to unlock your computer. An alternative is to contact the real FBI here www.ic3.gov and file a complaint.