120A Serious, Big Deal
A group of criminals developed a nasty malware program that uses state-of-the-art encryption to lockup your computer and network data, and to hold it for ransom. It even snakes its way into your backups and encrypts them.

Want your data back? CryptoLocker gives you 72 hours to pay them $300 in exchange for the encryption key to un-do the process.

Unfortunately victims of this malware don’t have much choice. You can remove the CryptoLocker program but your data is toast.

Unbelievable Audacity
Before I explain how you can prevent this from happening, let’s review the unbelievable audacity of these crooks. Turns out that lots of people missed the deadline or didn’t understand what they had to do (and lost their data forever). The crooks realized that they were leaving money on the table, and last week they set up a customer service website to help victims make their payments!

The CryptoLocker Decryption Service allows victims to check the status of their “order” (the ransom payment) and complete the transaction. Those who paid the ransom, but did not get the decryption key – or got one that didn’t work – can download it again. Those who missed the 72-hour deadline can also get their key, but the price jumps from $300 to $4,000.

You’re probably asking how can they get away with this? One of the keys is that they are using a payment service called Bitcoin – a global peer to peer service that uses technology to operate with no central authority or banks. We’re now at the tipping point where ransomware like this can become epidemic because it’s not that hard to get paid.

How to Avoid Getting Infected
CryptoLocker is delivered by email in a password protected Zip file attachment. If you open it and enter the included password (PaSdIaoQ), your data is toast. How do you protect yourself? It’s the same advice you’ve heard before — Don’t open attachments from an unknown sender, have up-to-date security software and back-up your files religiously. And because CryptoLocker can compromise files already backed-up, you need to reassess how you do your backups. Rotated offsite backups and online backups, as discussed in last week’s Right Clique, will save the day if you have them.

We are now dealing with a new generation of malware. Once it’s done its damage, you cannot undo it yourself. This is scary stuff. All of us need to rethink how we protect our important data.