UK government warns of new online ransom scam CryptoLocker

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 6:38am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 November, 2013, 6:39am


British officials issued an unusually stark alert about a cyberscam that locks users out of their computers unless they pay a ransom, saying that tens of millions of people might soon be targeted.

In a warning headlined "URGENT ALERT", Britain's National Crime Agency said on Friday they were aware of a "mass e-mail spamming event that is ongoing" and urged computer users to beware of messages purporting to come from their bank.

Tony Neate, the chief executive of British internet safety group GetSafeOnline, said it was noteworthy that the agency, often described as Britain's equivalent of the FBI, had sent out such a strongly worded alert about a cyberscam.

"They're only going to do it if they think it is serious," he said.

The scam targeting Britons works by tricking people into downloading "CryptoLocker", a new brand of malicious software that encrypts a user's hard drive, effectively putting their photos, documents and other data under lock and key.

A 72-hour countdown clock appears on the screen warning that the files will be lost irrevocably unless a ransom is paid, either through Bitcoin, a tough-to-trace cyber currency, or MoneyPak cash cards. Ransoms tend to be US$100 or US$300, according to security site BleepingComputer.