Taking Hostages

Newsweek International, October 2, 2006 | Go to article overview

Taking Hostages


Byline: Allan Madrid

Imagine a virus that invades your computer and seizes your files, not releasing them until you send money to an anonymous online account. The hackers could be anywhere in the world, and all the police can do is file a report. Your choice: pay the ransom or lose the files.

Such cases of "ransom-ware" are on the rise, say Internet security experts. A recent report by Kaspersky Lab, a PC security firm based in Moscow, says that "these blackmailing viruses," which first appeared in early 2004, have "reached a peak of activity in 2006." Nobody knows exactly how many computers have been affected, but experts estimate the number has jumped into the low thousands this year. "Ransomware is the next evolution in spyware," says Ira Winkler, an Internet security expert and author of Spies Among Us .

Ransomware is spread through Trojan-horse programs sent out as spam or hidden on malicious sites. About 60 percent of it comes from Brazil, Russia and Romania. Antivirus vendors have identified three variations: One demands that the victim purchase products from an online Russian pharmacy. Another threatens to delete files every half hour until the victim sends a $10.99 money order to a designated account.

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Taking Hostages
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