In this line of work we see a long parade of on line scams and digitally-enabled frauds. but this one froze me at the keyboard: Software that for all intents and purposes, threatens to shoot your computer if you don't pay. The bad guys infect your system and hold it for ransom by locking up your hard drive with encryption. Will Oremus has been following this for Slate Magazine.
"This is a legitimately terrifying new form of malware," says Oremus. "If you download the wrong file--and that can happen either by visiting the wrong website, clicking a link in an email--and a message will pop up, telling you that all of your files have been locked, and the only way to get them back is to pay up."
Has anyone actually paid up and then gotten their stuff unlocked? According to Oremus, there is--anecdotally at least--on case in Australia in which a person paid the ransom and got their files back. But he says most experts take a "do not negotiate with terrorists" approach. After all--they can probably just try and squeeze more and more money out of you, or take the cash and not deliver your goods back.
Perhaps the scariest part of it all is that the ransomware suggests you have broken the law somehow.
"A window pops up on your browser that makes it look like the FBI is telling you that your files have been locked" says Oremus, "because you’ve done something wrong—downloaded illegal MP3s, or movies, and that’s why you’re locked out. And you have to pay up or you could face criminal charges."
How to protect against it? A familiar line: backup your files! Consistently back up your hard drive and keep an external that's not always connected to the machine that's online. But let's be honest: how many of us consistently back up our files, really? Yeah. That's what I thought.