HOLDING YOUR COMPUTER FOR RANSOM?

By | September 15, 2016 at 3:06 pm | No comments | Columns, Dale Gribow on the Law

By Dale Gribow

I thought I had heard of all the scams when I last wrote about Robocall scams such as Google listing scams, loan related scams and fraudsters offering free vacations. Clearly the elderly makeup of the CV attracts scammers.

The newest Ransomware scams involve someone getting into your computer and threatening to ERASE everything unless you pay the requested ransom. Ransomware is on a rampage, seizing control of personal computers and institution-wide networks and encrypting files to make them inaccessible until a ransom is paid for their release.

In the first quarter of 2016 computer attacks have increased tenfold over all of 2015. The FBI received about 2,500 ransomware complaints involving incidents that cost victims $24 million in 2015. The $209 million paid to cyber crooks in the first quarter of 2016 is only a fraction of the actual losses. Unfortunately the majority of attacks and crimes, of all kinds, go unreported.

Evidence suggests that new strains and variants<https://www.proofpoint.com/us/threat-insight/post/ransomware-explosion-continues-cryptflle2-brlock-mm-locker-discovered> are being developed by cyber crooks in the Eastern European part of the world. Some are specifically developed to elude security software. This is basically what has happened with the leak of Hillary Clintons emails except that they did not request a ransom. I suspect one would have been paid by the Clintons.

Computers are infected by ransomware when the user clicks on a malicious link or attachment. Recently mass emails claiming “Your package has been successfully delivered<https://www.endgame.com/blog/your-package-has-been-successfully-encrypted-teslacrypt-41a-and-malware-attack-chain>” have been used. They state they have a “proof of delivery notification to you.”

The malware locks computers while displaying a notification that its contents have been encrypted and are being held hostage until a ransom is paid. Victims who pay the ransom usually receive an emailed “decryption key” that unlocks the system and releases the files. The cyber crooks must be paid within a short period of time or the files are deleted as threatened. They often use a scary countdown clock that is displayed on your computer.

The ransom amounts vary from $200 to $800. However they can be much more expensive. An untraceable digital currency called Bitcoins is utilized to pay the ransom. The bigger and more profitable targets are the hospitals, schools, city governments and even police departments.

A half dozen major health care systems have been victimized this year, including Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California. They paid a $17,000 ransom in bitcoins, rather than risk losing their patients’ medical records and other crucial files.

The FBI says this crime is becoming more sophisticated and is gaining strength. Thankfully our email systems have become more sophisticated too, at filtering out spam. These cyber criminals are now spear phishing and targeting specific individuals, by sending more believable correspondence that addresses you by name.

Robocalls escalate when the phone is answered. The bad guys have call centers, often from out of the country, that make day long calls. They have spoofing software making it look like you are receiving the call from say the IRS or Riverside Sheriffs.

The caller may claim to be an enforcement officer acting on behalf of the IRS, the Palm Springs Police, Riverside County Sheriff or the Indio Courthouse. Sometimes the caller ID may even confirm same. Note that the IRS does not call you, they send letters. If this happens to you, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or forward their emails to phishing@IRS.gov<mailto:phishing@IRS.gov>.

The bad guys may use your name, address and other personal information to make the call sound official. These scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying. The caller may even threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the license of their victim if they don’t get the money. I have personally been the recipient of this …twice.

Plan ahead and be safe by backing up your computer with an external drive and use reputable antivirus software and a firewall. Update your software and click wisely on emails and attachments you do not recognize.

Ideas for future columns? Contact me 760-837-7500/dale@dalegribowlaw.com.

DALE GRIBOW

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