New Viruses in Town

The Computer Corner

All you want to know about computers by Charles Miller

Sometimes I can tell when there is a new virus/malware scam in town. When I receive several identical emails almost simultaneously from different friends, I know that one of them permitted their email account to be hacked, and now some scammers are busily impersonating everyone in the purloined email address book.

The most recent occurrence of this was a spate of attacks from a new and pernicious form of criminal activity being called ransomware. When this form of online scam first appeared last year all the professionals in the Information Technology industry let out a collective groan because we all recognized immediately that this is bad, and that this scam is just too profitable for the crooks to not keep on doing it.

Ransomware is the symbiosis of two previously existing and recently perfected technologies. Secure unbreakable encryption is now a reality and likewise anonymous untraceable online payment systems. It is only natural to realize that cybercrooks seized on the idea that it was possible to encrypt victim’s valuable files, demand a ransom to unencrypt them, and arrange the payment through a completely untraceable system such as Bitcoin.

The way the con works is that some unwitting computer user receives an email, allegedly from someone they know and trust, and they foolishly click on a link in the email or open an attachment. Immediately the malware goes to work encrypting the user’s files so that they can no longer be accessed. Then the crooks communicate that they will be willing to unencrypt the files for a price. That price, usually amounting to several hundred US dollars, is paid in bitcoins that are absolutely untraceable. Just ask the Tewksbury, Massachusetts Police Department. The department was hit with one of the early ransomware attacks, leaving it with no choice but to pay the ransom to get back important files. They had no backup! Even using all their resources, the police department was stymied when trying to track down the perpetrators.

In San Miguel de Allende there was recently an attack that, owing to the carelessness of several users, resulted in several of them losing all their documents, pictures, and other data. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation recommends that victims not pay the ransom; however, several police departments can assure everyone there is simply no other way to get your files back, and several law enforcement organizations have had to pay, much to their chagrin.

Prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, make it a rule to never, never, never, never, never, never click on links in emails nor open unknown attachments, and you will avoid almost all malware attacks. The best strategy is to have and maintain good backups stored offline from your computer so that if you do fall victim to a ransomware attack, you will not have to pay.

 

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant. He may be contacted at 044 415 1018528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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