UK warns of online ransom scam targeting millions

British officials issued an unusually stark alert about a cyberscam that locks users out of their computers unless they pay a ransom, saying Friday that tens of millions of people may soon be targeted.


London: British officials issued an unusually stark alert about a cyberscam that locks users out of their computers unless they pay a ransom, saying Friday that tens of millions of people may soon be targeted.

In a warning headlined "URGENT ALERT," Britain's National Crime Agency said they were aware of a "mass email spamming event that is ongoing" and urged computer users to beware of messages purporting to come from their bank.

Tony Neate, the chief executive of British Internet safety group GetSafeOnline, said it was noteworthy that the agency - often described as Britain's equivalent of the FBI - had sent out such a strongly worded alert about a cyberscam.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. The blocking of Flickr is the latest casualty of China's ongoing battle to control its sprawling Internet. Wikipedia, and a raft of other popular Web sites, discussion boards and blogs have already fallen victim to the country's censors. China employs a complex system of filters and an army of tens of thousands of human monitors to survey the country's 140 million Internet users' surfing habits and surgically clip sensitive content from in front of their eyes. Reuters

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. Reuters

"They're only going to do it if they think it is serious," he said in a telephone interview.

The scam targeting Britons works by tricking people into downloading CryptoLocker, a new brand of malicious software that encrypts a user's hard drive, effectively putting their photos, documents, and other data under lock and key.

A 72-hour countdown clock appears on the screen warning that the files will be lost irrevocably unless a ransom is paid, either through Bitcoin - a tough-to-trace cybercurrency - or MoneyPak cash cards. Ransoms tend to be $100 or $300, according to BleepingComputer, a security website that has closely tracked CryptoLocker's spread.

Users who've paid the ransom have reported that their files are decrypted within a few hours, but Britain's crime agency warned that it did not endorse the payment of ransoms to criminals and warned that "there is no guarantee that they would honor the payments in any event."

AP


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