PLANO –– Computer experts say the reach and severity of an Internet virus that’s growing in frequency are alarming enough that anyone with a computer should be aware of it.
Hackers are holding users for ransom with a virus that locks them out of their computers. Bradley Anderson was one who fell victim to the virus. He was working on his laptop, when suddenly things went terribly wrong.
A screen popped up, claiming it was from the FBI, alleging that Anderson had committed a cybercrime.
"All of a sudden, it fills the entire screen," said Anderson. "And I'm clicking on everything, but the pay here window. I asked myself, how do I get out of it?"
Anderson's computer was infected with a ransomware virus known as Cryptolocker. It essentially blackmails the user. In this case, all the computers files are encrypted with a code that only the hackers can reopen. It claims it will forgive you for your cyber crime, but only if you pay a fee. It even has a deadline with a ticking clock.
Pay up on time with a prepaid credit card, and your files will be unlocked.
"It doesn't just take down your computer, but it completely locks you out of the computer," said Anderson. "And you seemingly have no way of getting back in without paying somebody."
Cyber Security Professor Mike Saylor at Collin College says of the quarter million different versions of ransomware, Cyberlocker is the worst. He believes most of it was developed overseas.
"There are criminal enterprises that develop these for a living, and they're for sale on the black market," said Saylor. "And anyone that wants to get into the business can buy it."
So how do you get rid of Cryptolocker? Restore your system to a time before your computer was infected. In some cases, the experts have had to scrape hard drives clean and reinstall data from scratch.
"Once you're infected with Cryrptolocker specifically, the only way to get rid of it, currently, is to pay the ransom."
Experts say the best prevention is to not open any unknown files and back up your computer to an external hard drive as often as possible.