Online extortion, tech support scams and phishing attacks that spoof the boss were among the most costly cyber scams reported by consumers and businesses last year, according to new figures from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
The IC3 report released Thursday correctly identifies some of the most prevalent and insidious forms of cybercrimes today, but the total financial losses tied to each crime type also underscore how infrequently victims actually report such crimes to law enforcement.
A decade ago, if a desktop computer got infected with malware the chief symptom probably was an intrusive browser toolbar of some kind. Five years ago you were more likely to whacked by a banking trojan that stole all your passwords and credit card numbers. These days if your mobile or desktop computer is infected what gets installed is likely to be “ransomware” — malicious software that locks your most prized documents, songs and pictures with strong encryption and then requires you to pay for a key to unlock the files.
I shared a meal not long ago with a source who works at a financial services company. The subject of ransomware came up and he told me that a server in his company had recently been infected with a particularly nasty strain that spread to several systems before the outbreak was quarantined. He said the folks in finance didn’t bat an eyelash when asked to authorize several payments of $600 to satisfy the Bitcoin ransom demanded by the intruders: After all, my source confessed, the data on one of the infected systems was worth millions — possibly tens of millions — of dollars, but for whatever reason the company didn’t have backups of it.
This anecdote has haunted me because it speaks volumes about what we can likely expect in the very near future from ransomware — malicious software that scrambles all files on an infected computer with strong encryption, and then requires payment from the victim to recover them.
Last week’s article about how to prevent CryptoLocker ransomware attacks generated quite a bit of feedback and lots of questions from readers. For some answers — and since the malware itself has morphed significantly in just a few day’s time — I turned to Lawrence Abrams and his online help forum BleepingComputer.com, which have been following and warning about this scourge for several months.