UK warns of ransom scam targeting 10s of millions

LONDON (AP) - British officials issued an unusually stark alert about a cyberscam that locks users out of their computers unless they pay a ransom, saying Friday that tens of millions of people may soon be targeted.

In a warning headlined "URGENT ALERT," Britain's National Crime Agency said they were aware of a "mass email 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 in a telephone interview.

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 cybercurrency _ or MoneyPak cash cards. Ransoms tend to be $100 or $300, according to BleepingComputer, a security website that has closely tracked CryptoLocker's spread.

Users who've paid the ransom have reported that their files are decrypted within a few hours, but Britain's crime agency warned that it did not endorse the payment of ransoms to criminals and warned that "there is no guarantee that they would honor the payments in any event."



National Crime Agency warning:

BleepingComputer's guide to CryptoLocker:

Get Safe Online:

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Top Stories

  • Delay Grows
    The latest estimate says the Seattle tunnel project won't be done until August 2017

  • Hazardous Lots?
    Shoppers say Northgate Mall parking dividers have caused unnecessary injury
ATTENTION COMMENTERS: We've changed our comments, but want to keep you in the conversation.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus
Listen to the show
Hear GeekWire on KIRO Radio
Join Todd Bishop and John Cook weekends on KIRO Radio to talk Seattle technology.

Sign up for breaking news e-mail alerts from
In the community
Do you know an exceptional citizen who has impacted and inspired others?
KIRO Radio and WSECU would like to recognize six oustanding citizens this year. Nominate them to be recognized and to receive a $2,000 charitable grant.