Ransomware attacks are on the rise - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Ransomware attacks are on the rise

(Source: WBRC video) (Source: WBRC video)

It counts on bad habits, it preys on panic, and it works. Ransomware is on the rise according to special agents at the FBI cyber crimes unit in Birmingham.

All it takes is one click for a victim's computer to be hijacked.

“There are Birmingham victims every single day of this thing,” explains Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at the University Of Alabama At Birmingham.

“It can be extremely damaging to the company or even the individual depending on what the data is,” explained one FBI supervisor special agent who wished not to be identified for security purposes.

Cryptolocker 2 is the name of the newest version of the file encrypting ransomware, according to Warner.

In order to become infected, the victim will usually click on a bad link or on an attachment, usually found in an unsolicited email. Warner explains that will send the victim to a compromised website. In an instant, that computer has been infected.

Victims will see a message pop up on the computer screen. It will explain hackers now have total control over all of the victim's files. The cyber criminal has used the ransomware to encrypt all of the files. The victim now needs a code or “key” to unlock the files.

Warner says similar to older forms of the attack, this latest one leaves victims with just two options. “Lose all of your data and hope your backups are good, or pay the ransom,” added Warner.

The already stressful scenario then gets worse. The hackers give the victims a deadline to pay the ransom money. Warner says the most recent victims are paying up to $1,700 worth of Bitcoin.

“We believe it's tens of millions of dollars a month that people are paying in ransoms,” said Warner. He says anyone with a computer and internet is a potential target. “It's happening to people in every walk of life. Every business and every type of organization.”

There are simple steps people can take to prevent becoming the next victim of Cryptolocker 2.

The FBI cyber crimes unit in Birmingham strongly recommends ignoring unsolicited emails and backing up files regularly. The back up process should include a source that's offline, like an external hard drive. Those precautions should also be taken with mobile devices.

Warner also recommends using a popup blocker and running regular updates on Windows software. He recommends staying on top of updates for programs like Adobe and Java.

The FBI asks victims of this attack to report it the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) which is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National White Collar Crime Center. The link is: http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Warner says anyone who does become the victim of a ransomware attack should take his or her computer to an anti-virus specialist.

“Your computer is in an untrustworthy situation at that point. You have malware that a criminal has installed in your computer. But the best option really is to format the computer and re-install everything from scratch,” Warner added.

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