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How Virtual Kidnappers Hold Your Computer For Ransom [Science]

There's this new thing that I'd never heard about called "ransomware." Basically, it's a lot like a virus, except instead of stealing your information, wiping your hard drive, and showing goofy pictures, it holds your computer for ransom. Here's the description on the New York Times about what happens when you get ransomware on your PC:

Researchers say criminals now use victims’ Internet addresses to customize ransom notes in their native tongue. Instead of pornographic images, criminals flash messages from local law enforcement agencies accusing them of visiting illegal pornography, gambling or piracy sites and demand they pay a fine to unlock their computer.
Victims in the United States see messages in English purporting to be from the F.B.I. or Justice Department. In the Netherlands, people get a similar message, in Dutch, from the local police. (Some Irish variations even demand money in Gaelic.) The latest variants speak to victims through recorded audio messages that tell users that if they do not pay within 48 hours, they will face criminal charges. Some even show footage from a computer’s webcam to give the illusion that law enforcement is watching.
The messages often demand that victims buy a preloaded debit card that can be purchased at a local drugstore — and enter the PIN. That way it’s impossible for victims to cancel the transaction once it becomes clear that criminals have no intention of unlocking their PC.

Of course, it's really just a scam. Anyone who's gotten an email claiming to be from the FBI demanding their credit card number wouldn't be fooled, and less than fifteen percent of users infected fall for it. The rest of us just wipe our PC. But there's always someone who might be fooled by it, and it's earning millions for its creators, and growing. I'm impressed by the amount of social engineering at play in these things. We've come a long way from the "I Love You" Virus.

[Via New York Times]

What do you think of ransomware? What other security threats have you experienced?

Check out my novel Dead Links, which chronicles an even greater Internet threat...

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1 comment:

  1. Sad what depths thieves will sink to, and sadder those they will con.


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