You’d go online with your dial-up modem, take 25 minutes to naively download an appealing-sounding .exe file, and suddenly a sheep would walk across the screen or an embarrassing e-mail would be sent to your entire address book. Some would even wish you a Happy New Year.
Annoying, maybe, but they had their own ‘90s cyber-kiddie sense of charm.
Some viruses, of course, were incredibly disruptive. Now, though, viruses and malware have become even more malicious. They’re out for more than just hacker cred – they’re out for your money.
For a long time, malware scammers used tactics known as Scare ware. The malicious software fraudulently claims that your computer has a serious virus infection then sends you to a page to buy their (useless) anti-virus software.
While this is certainly still around, many people have gotten wise to the fraud. Now some scammers are playing hardball. Enter Ransom ware.
Ransom ware is a form of malware that encrypts files on your hard drives with a highly complicated algorithm then presents you with an ultimatum: Pay up or you lose your files forever. The inherent brilliance in the software is this: While the software can be removed, the files remain encrypted. Paying the ransom is the only chance you have to see your files again.
Although this scam has been around since 1989, only recently has it become widespread due to advancements in cryptography algorithms, the ability to extort via the anonymous currency Bit coin, and the digitization of once-analog items of sentimental value like family photos and home videos.
Some consumers are aware of the latest and most notable iteration of this trend known as Crypto Locker, which encrypts the user’s data with a 2048-bit RSA Algorithm. The scammers weren’t fooling around when they invented this complicated algorithm, which is incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to crack without a key, which will cost victims about $150 to $300.
Crypto locker has been incredibly successful. Owing to surprisingly good “customer service” — the majority of people who pay the ransom have their files restored — the men behind the Crypto locker curtain have raked in over $27 million in Bit coin over a period of three months, according to an examination of the Bit coin block chain by ZDNet.