The worst threat out there: CryptoLocker

The worst threat out there: CryptoLocker

If you have not heard of CryptoLocker, please take a couple of minutes to read this.

There was a time viruses were nothing more than an electronic prank, often times with no purpose other than to see how many computers could be infected before it was caught. But almost a decade ago there was a major shift in purpose where viruses became a viable business. Theft and collection of data, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and distribution of spam emails are the objectives behind the most widespread viruses and malware of the last few years.  But last September saw a new player surface to the top: CryptoLocker. Different to other infections in that it encrypts any documents you have access to on a computer and network, CryptoLocker requires the payment of a ransom within 72 hours to unlock the files, or the files will be lost forever.

This trojan has been so successful, with an estimated profit of over 75 million dollars, that copycats have surfaced to compete against it. Initially the ransoms were of $300 but recently ransoms upward of $3000 have been seen. To add salt to a wound, a slew of anti-cryptolocker programs have surfaced as well, from the mildly effective to the plain scams.

At this point most people will be asking if they are vulnerable to this threat. The short answer is yes. While CryptoLocker does not have a way to spread itself without human interaction, all it takes is going to an infected website or opening a seemingly harmless attachment in an email to get the infection. The next question is, what do you do about it? While we have heard firsthand experiences of people successfully paying the ransom and getting their files back, the best approach is not supporting this illegal enterprise and instead removing the infection, deleting the encrypted files and restoring the files from backup. The infection can often be removed with a good antivirus, and there are many documents online on how to remove manually as well.

Restoring from backup sounds easy enough but it is estimated that 94% of people have important data they are not backing up regularly. Online backup services can be obtained as low as $5 a month for an individual, or $12.50 a month for a family with up to 10 computers. When you calculate the risk of losing everything to CryptoLocker and the cost of paying the ransom, paying for an online backup just makes sense. If you have questions regarding backups, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to guide you in finding a good backup solution for you.

Of course, prevention is always best. Here are a few tips to improve your resilience to this kind of threat:

  • Be suspicious. Why would Fedex or UPS need to send you an attachment to give you information about a shipment?
  • Mouse over links in emails to compare where the link says it goes and where it actually goes. Never visit a website you’ve never heard about without researching it first.
  • Be aware of how emails make you feel. Scam emails prey on emotions so you click on links as soon as possible. Be weary of emails with bad news: your account was over-drafted, your shipment was delayed, your password was changed by somebody else, etc.
  • Keep your programs updated. Adobe Acrobat, Java and Windows all have security vulnerability patches regularly. If you’re running Windows XP, plan on upgrading before April 8, 2014 as Microsoft will cease release of patches for this product on this date.

If you’re ever unsure about the safety or validity of an email, feel free to ask an OMG representative. We live to be Your Technology Compass.