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Experts warn of 'ransomware' that freezes computer, demands money

Published: Monday, Oct. 7 2013 12:17 p.m. MDT

Syracuse police are warning people of a malware that is duping people out of money. While the scam isn’t new, people are still falling for it.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Syracuse police are warning people of malware that is duping people out of money. While the scam isn’t new, people are still falling for it.

The malware is known as “ransomware.” It’s a type of malicious software that restricts access to a computer until a ransom is paid. It makes it onto computers after someone clicks on a bad link in something like a phishing email.

Days, or potentially even weeks later, the malware surfaces and the computer screen freezes with a message that says the computer has been “blocked” and the IP address is under investigation for viewing of pornography or child pornography.

The "ransomware" demands the user pay via a MoneyPak or other means to unfreeze the computer.

“You’ve got to remember that the FBI and the NSA and other law enforcement agencies are not going to put a pop-up window on your computer,” XMission founder Pete Ashdown said.

Regardless, the scam seems to be working on people across the country. Over the past month, Syracuse police said they have fielded two to three calls per week from residents who have encountered the scam.

Some of those people ended up paying hundreds of dollars the ransomware demanded, Syracuse police officer Erin Behm said.

Ashdown said people likely pay to avoid more hassle.

“They may think, 'Well I’m not guilty of this, but a lot of people are not guilty who go to settlement,'” Ashdown said. “They just don’t want to deal with it.”

Another recent variation of the scam claimed to be from the National Security Agency and surfaced last month. Ashdown said a real government investigation would result in something more direct than a frozen computer screen, like agents coming to the door.

“Your computer is going to deliver your email and deliver your web pages. It’s not going to deliver warrants from the government. It’s not going to deliver investigative notices,” Ashdown said.

The best way people can protect themselves from malware is to use an up-to-date antivirus program and make sure all software on their computer is up to date. Experts also recommend people not click on links or open an attachment from people they don’t know.

Email: aadams@deseretnews.com

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