Hong Kong computers at risk of 'ransom' attacks by cyber crooks, experts warn

Viruses which hold computers hostage and hacking of data in 'cloud computing' space pose big threats, warns security watchdog

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 4:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 4:24pm

"Ransomware" attacks in which cyber criminals hold computers hostage are expected to be a serious threat this year, according to Hong Kong's information security watchdog.

Such attacks, in which the hackers use a virus to freeze a computer and demand money to free it, were on the rise, said the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre.

Other key threats included the hijacking of system servers to launch attacks and the hacking of data stored in "cloud computing" space, it said.

The threats are set against a background of a 52 per cent rise in all cases of online security breaches last year compared with 2012.

As a sign of just how harmful ransomware attacks have become, the centre separated them from other classifications of cyber-attacks last year.

"We expect more cases will be reported this year as the encryption methods for ransomware get more sophisticated," the centre's senior consultant Leung Siu-cheong said.

"Meanwhile, criminals can always find ways to attract internet users to open e-mail attachments or links that interest them, even though they are from unknown sources."

The centre received 1,593 reports of online security problems last year, up from 1,050 in 2012.

"Botnet" attacks, in which computers are turned into "zombies" carrying out cyber attacks without the users' knowledge, made up the bulk of the increase. There were nearly four times as many reports of such attacks last year - up to 423 from 120 in 2012.

There were 11 ransomware attacks last year.

One such virus that has attracted international attention is Cryptolocker, which surfaced in September and attacks computers running Microsoft Windows.

The centre advised companies not to store sensitive data using cloud computing. Instead, they should keep their data at an encrypted offline location that was isolated from cyber attacks.

Users of mobile devices with the Android operating system have also been advised to install anti-virus software as malware attacks on such devices have already surpassed those against computers.

Anyone wishing to know if their computers are infected and wanting to download removal tools can refer to the centre's link: