Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Virus as Extortion

I was looking forward to getting some work done at home last week when we were struck by a ransomware virus – a type of malware that restricts access to your computer unless you pay a “fine” to resolve the problem.

In this case, I was just opening the internet connection when the screen went black and there was an ominous message from the FBI stating that my computer was blocked for one of three reasons: (1) I have violated copyright laws by illegally using or distributing copyrighted content (citing a specific section of the “Copyright of the Criminal Code of United States of America;” (2) I have been viewing or distributing prohibited pornographic content (in violation of the Criminal Code of United States of America;) or (3) illegal access was initiated from my computer without my knowledge or consent  in violation of “the law On Neglectful Use of Personal Computer”.  I was pretty sure that I wasn’t guilty of the first two, but that third one…

To avoid fines from “two to five hundred minimal wages” (for copyright infringement) up to $100,000 (for the neglectful use of my computer) or “a deprivation of liberty” for anywhere between two and twelve years, I must buy a MoneyPak for $300 (available at Walmart and various convenience stores) and the FBI will remove the block.  I was initially outraged by the demand for $300, but when you think about it, that’s not bad to avoid going to prison.  If not for the fact that my computer had been turned into a big brick, this would have been funny.   

This was the first time that my computer fell victim to one of these viruses, but I read about these scams all the time.  I admit being surprised at the number of people taken in by them.  Aside from poor grammar, bad spelling, odd phrasing such as “deprivation of liberty” instead of “imprisonment” or “jail,” and the just plain silly reference to a criminal penalty for “allowing” your computer to be infected – could anyone seriously believe that $300 would buy them out of a real crime?  Sadly, the success of these scams means we are doomed to see more for some time.

If in doubt, it is easy to check on these matters.  Simply type in some of the odd phrases and all of the articles exposing the scam pop right up – although this is admittedly problematic if your only access to the internet is locked.  I used other electronic devices to find out what I could about this scam, and was pleased to find instructions for removing the block.  Unfortunately, my computer had other issues that were accelerated by this virus and I was unable to fix it on my own.  Now – five days later – the $300 MoneyPak is beginning to look like a bargain.  Maybe that was the point all along.

1 comment :

  1. Yep,happened to me too about 5 days ago.The first time though,was 2 days before that,and by using safe mode then system restore,I thought I had the problem solved.Unfortunately I did not run my virus scans like I should have...UGH!Two days later it popped up again and I tried every safe mode,task manager and diagnostic trick I knew.Now I'm pricing XP discs on ebay.I lost over 1000 hours of work.Please don't give these people a red cent,once they have your money,why bother to unlock it.
    Me,I'm gonna take drastic measures it never happens again.