Security specialist Symantec took me to lunch to warn of the rise of ransomware. It is a nasty twist on malware where the software infecting a computer causes a problem which the criminals behind the scam promise to fix so long as you hand over money.
The current crop of ransomware will show a message on your computer’s screen that appears to come from a law enforcement agency. Overseas many victims have seen messages from America’s FBI, Symantec principal systems engineer Mark Shaw says there have been local cases where messages fraudulently say they are from the New Zealand Police.
Shaw said the messages may say your computer has been investigated and has been found to contain child pornography or illegally downloaded copyright material. They say the computer is locked – usually the software will lock a hard drive – and that it can be unlocked if you pay a fine.
Interestingly the fines are in the range of a few hundred dollars – in other words amounts you’ll willingly pay to quickly regain control of your computer. Apparently many people have paid up. Shaw says the scammers are making $5 million a year.
You won’t be surprised to hear Symantec says it has tools to help businesses and individuals guard against ransomware as well as all the other nasty stuff out there online.
Sure, you may want to quickly check your systems haven’t been compromised by ransomware, but rather than race around like a headless chook worrying about this specific threat, it might be a good moment to check your firewall and anti-malware defences are firmly in place and everything is up-to-date.
Oh, and remind everyone in your business or home not to do anything risky and dumb online.