More and more users are reportedly waking up to instances of ransomware – wherein, they are greeted with messages informing them they can no longer access their PC and its contents. Users are then asked for a fee, a steep one at that, to be able to regain access. What is worrying is that, despite so much knowledge on this kind of ransomware, the scheme is making more than a whopping $5 million a year, as per a New York Times report. Interestingly, the messages that users receive claim to be from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and 20 other law enforcement agencies worldwide or even the popular hacking outfit, Anonymous.
Reportedly, the spate of incidents date back to 2009 in Eastern Europe. Seeing an increase in their business, the perpetrators moved west. As it stands now, reports claim that according to security experts, there are now over 16 gangs of sophisticated criminals looting PC users.
Users increasingly falling prey to ransomware (Image source: Getty Images)
The report goes on to highlight further that the United States was recently affected by it. “Some gangs have abandoned previously lucrative schemes, like fake antivirus scams and banking trojans, to focus on ransomware full time,” it notes further.
Elaborating upon the nature of ransomware, the report shares that it typically is online extortion. Miscreants infect a user’s computer with a virus that locks it. They then demand money to unlock the system. Painfully though, it is known that they rarely unlock it after taking the money.
Understandably so, the only way then for the majority of users to gain access is to call in a technician. That again, does not guarantee you, that you will get your files back, since in all likelihood your system may have to be formatted.
“It may be hard to fathom why anyone would agree to fork over hundreds of dollars to a demanding stranger, but security researchers estimate that 2.9 percent of compromised computer owners take the bait and pay. That, they say, is an extremely conservative estimate. In some countries, the payout rate has been as high as 15 percent,” the report adds.
Ransomware, in its initial stages locked computers, showcased pornographic images and, in Russian, asked for a heavy sum to have the virus removed. Currently though, these methods are 'more targeted.' Going further, the report adds that according to researchers, miscreants have now resorted to using victims’ Internet addresses to customise ransom notes in their native tongue. In fact now, in place of pornographic images, they flash messages from local law enforcement agencies accusing them of visiting illegal pornography, gambling or piracy sites and then demand a fine to unlock their computer.
Victims in the United States have claimed to have received messages in English, from someone posing as from the F.B.I or Justice Department. Those in Netherlands, too have been receiving messages in Dutch from the local police. Interestingly, it has been known that the latest variants of ransomware interact with their victims by way of recorded audio messages, informing them that if they do not pay within 48 hours, they will face criminal charges. “Some even show footage from a computer’s webcam to give the illusion that law enforcement is watching,” the report shares.