Have you ever read about ransomware? It is an especially frightening new form of malware. A recent story published by Slate goes into the details of how it attacks your computer. After clicking on a suspicious link from an email or a webpage, your screen will suddenly turn grey. Then a message pops up that is branded to look like it’s from the FBI. What’s more, it has you on a live webcam feed!
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 you have 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 purchasing a prepaid cash card—to avoid facing criminal charges. The message also states that you’ll be locked out of your machine permanently if you don’t pay.
A real threat
Obviously, the criminal charges part of this scam is fake, but the threat of dealing with a totally locked computer is real, at least according to 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? The same way you always have, with up-to-date antivirus software. Also, pay attention to what sites you visit and don’t click on links in emails from people you don’t know.
However, if you do become a victim of ransomware you will most likely need to talk to a security expert to unlock your computer. Another option is to contact the real FBI here www.ic3.gov and file a complaint.