BBB is warning consumers of a malware program that accesses your personal computer and holds it hostage. A release by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explains that “Cryptolocker” encrypts all your personal documents, photos and files so you can no longer open them. Con artists then demand money in order to give you access again.
The FTC reports that Cryptolocker is spread mostly through downloads by way of email. The email might look like a normal message from an authentic company, similar to a tracking notice from a shipping company. However, when you click the hyperlink in the email, Cryptolocker encrypts everything on your hard drive and in your shared folders.
Once the software has accessed all your files, a “ransom note” appears asking for payment via Bitcoin or another anonymous payment method. Once scammers have taken your files hostage, there is no other way to unlock them other than to pay. The scammer uses an encryption key as a bargaining tool, but there is no guarantee the con artist will honor their word and return access.
BBB suggests the best way to avoid getting dangerous malware on your computer is to:
- Back up your files through ‘cold storage’. If you have a clean backup that the malware can’t reach, you can get your files back. Back up your files with an external hard drive and keep it unplugged from your main hard drive when you’re not using it.
- Research before you click. Before clicking on an unknown link or popup, take the time to research the company sending you the message by going to bbb.org first.
- Don’t believe the message. To persuade you to click a virus-laden link or gather your personal information, con artists must earn your trust. They try to accomplish this by composing convincing-looking messages that entice people to click the advertisement.
- Protect your personal information. Don’t provide your personal information or credit card information to an unknown company or website. If you’re thinking of purchasing something from a website, there are various icons and software programs that indicate that security software is in place, such as “https” instead of “http,” or a padlock icon at the bottom of the screen.
- Protect your computer. Installing updates to your operating system can be done for free by enabling the option on your computer’s security center. Keep all anti-virus software up-to-date and make sure all security patches and updates are installed for programs that access the Internet.