McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Announcements

October 13, 2012

Slate: Pay up or the hard drive gets it

You've just opened a Web page or clicked a link in an email when your computer's desktop goes gray. A browser window pops up with the FBI logo in the top left corner. Below it is a live webcam feed with a picture of someone's face. You try to click away but find that your browser is locked. With a start, you recognize the face staring at you from the screen: It's you.

This isn't the plot of a Japanese horror film. It's a frightening form of malware called "ransomware" that has been seen with increasing frequency in recent months. No one knows exactly how many people have been hit with it, but security firm McAfee reports that it recorded more than 120,000 new samples in the second quarter of 2012, a fourfold increase from the same quarter last year.

There are many variants of ransomware, all of which begin by locking you out of your own machine. The next phase: trying to blackmail, intimidate or otherwise spook you into forking over cash. You probably shouldn't do it. But it's easy to see why a lot of people do.

The version I described in the first paragraph is the product of a virus called Reveton, which you can contract either by clicking a malicious link or visiting an infected website, which triggers an automatic download. Beneath the video feed, which registers the surprise on your face as you recognize yourself, are your computer's IP address and hostname and an urgent message: "Your computer has been locked!" Scroll further and you'll find yourself accused of possessing illegally downloaded files in violation of federal copyright laws. (A new iteration claims that you're in violation of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act - which, as serious netizens know, never actually became law.)

The crime, you're told, is punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison. There's only one way to unlock your computer, according to the warning on your browser, and that's to pay up. And if you don't pay the specified "fine" within 48 or 72 hours - often by purchasing a prepaid cash card such as Green Dot's Moneypak, which makes the transaction hard to trace - it claims that you'll be locked out of your machine permanently and face criminal charges to boot.

The criminal charges are bogus, of course, but the threat of being permanently locked out of your files is real, says Chet Wisniewski, senior security adviser at the data-security firm Sophos. Some victims have reported that, after a certain amount of time passed, their files were in fact deleted. On the other hand, it's unclear whether paying up actually helps, or if it just prompts the bad guys to try to squeeze more out of you. One thing security experts do know is that the scam appears to be automated. It would be a mistake to assume there's an actual human on the other end whom you can persuade to take it easy on you because you really, really need those files.

So what should you do if you're unwary and unlucky enough to contract a ransomware Trojan? First, instructs Sophos' Paul Ducklin in a helpful video, don't panic and don't do anything rash. Once the malware has control of your machine, chances are that most of the damage has already been done. In theory the hackers could mine your files for private information, but in practice they rarely do. Too much effort for an uncertain reward.

And ignore those threats not to tell anyone about the attack. Unless you're an expert yourself, it's a good idea to enlist the help of a computer security expert to help you figure out how to handle it. The FBI - the real FBI - also recommends filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.

As with most forms of malware, the best protection here is simply to avoid visiting compromised websites or clicking on any suspicious-looking links, whether on the Web or in emails, Twitter or Facebook messages, or even Skype messages. Keeping your operating system and apps updated with the latest security patches always helps, and antivirus software can be an additional prophylactic. But this particular type of attack also reinforces the importance of backing up your files. Otherwise, you might never see them again.

It's conceivable, some security types admit privately, that paying up could prompt the criminals to restore them. But the official advice is that you never should, and in most cases that's the advice that makes the most sense.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Announcements
  • RICHARDSON 50 1.jpg Richardsons celebrate 50 years of marriage

    Haileyville High School graduates Jim and Connie Richardson, of rural Claremore, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Saturday.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Masonic Officers South McAlester Lodge 96 announces officers for 2014

    South McAlester Lodge 96 officers for 2014 are, from left, front row, Senior Warden Larry Ivy, Worshipful Master Chad Peery, Junior Warden Lance Hess, Senior Steward Christopher Hitchcock and Secretary Brian Engleman; and top row, Senior Deacon Matthew Box, Junior Steward Gregory Steidley, Chaplain Billy Erkin and Trustee Mike Sexton. Not pictured are Treasurer Jack Inman, Junior Deacon Jake Tannehill and Brent Yates.

    January 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • facebook.png Have teens really stopped using Facebook?

    In baseball, trend-spotting tends to be based on statistical analysis. In fashion, it's driven by runway shows. And when it comes to social networks, the ascendant paradigm for forecasting the future seems to center on first-person anecdotes and unsupported hearsay from random teen-agers.

    August 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • amazon Why you shouldn't trust Internet comments

    A new study suggests that such online scores don't always reveal the best choice. A massive controlled experiment of Web users finds that such ratings are highly susceptible to irrational "herd behavior" — and that the herd can be manipulated.

    August 23, 2013 1 Photo

  • Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 10.25.04 AM.png VIDEO: Timelapse shows Perseid meteor shower

    This CNN video, shot in Hawaii, shows dozens of meteors crossing the skies during the Perseid meteor shower.

    August 23, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0812-forged.jpg Man accused of forging divorce papers to fool new girlfriend's mom

    A Pennsylvania man is accused of forging a judge's signature on a divorce decree to fool the mother of his much-younger new girlfriend, according to court documents.

    August 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • RAV4Ext.jpg Cargazing: Toyota RAV4 gets more efficient, better looking

    If you're looking for a compact crossover these days, you've got plenty of options: the sporty kind, the luxury kind, the truck-like kind and the just plain funky kind. But what I'm checking out this week is the traditional kind. It's the 2013 Toyota RAV4, and it's the kind of middle-of-the-road crossover that's made this type of car so popular in recent years.

    August 22, 2013 2 Photos

  • AVIS12.jpg 'We try harder': The most brilliant ad slogan of the 20th century

    In 1962, Avis was in search of a new advertising campaign. So the ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach decided to embrace Avis' second-place status as a sneaky way to tout the brand's customer service. "When you're only No. 2, you try harder," went the new tagline. "Or else."

    August 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • 0812-twins.jpg 8 sets of twins enrolled in school's kindergarten

    Sixteen tiny kindergartners sat on the slide at Pipe Creek Elementary in on their first day of school, waiting for a photographer to take their picture. Those 16 children are bound together by a common thread — they are all twins.

    August 16, 2013 1 Photo

  • iStock_000018389392XSmall.jpg 10 worst password ideas and tips for picking a better one

    Are your online passwords easily hackable? Measure yours up against this list of the 10 worst password ideas as outlined by Google Apps.

    August 16, 2013 1 Photo

Seasonal Content
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.