National & World News

New cyber scam takes your computer hostage

SAN DIEGO – A new computer scam “Ransonware” is infecting and affecting thousands of people across the country.  Some cyber security analysts have dubbed it the “new Nigerian scam.”

“If I’m an attacker, I’ll go ahead and put Ransomware on your computer and say I need a certain amount of money for you to get your documents back,” said Chris Astacio, a security manager for Websense, a cyber-security firm in Sorrento Valley.

ransomwareAstacio said hackers essentially take your computer hostage by infecting it with malware, or a virus. Instructions pop up on your computer screen demanding you wire money, typically $200-$400, in order for your documents or files to be unlocked.

Special Agent Terry Reed at the FBI San Diego’s cyber department said less than 5% of the victims who pay end up retrieving their files.

“I think what surprises me is just how innovative [hackers] are. Every day, it seems they have a new scam they’re using to lure in victims and it’s unfortunately very effective,” said Reed.

Ransomware started overseas in Russia and there are now cases reported in the United States. Reed didn’t have a specific number of cases, but said the number is safely in the thousands.

Reed said hackers will often send messages appearing to be from the FBI or another authority agency. The message informs the victim he visited a child pornography site, and now must pay a fee in order to unlock his computer. Fearful that he is being tracked or did something wrong, victims pay the money.

“This is a total fear tactic. In reality, the person did nothing wrong, but the hackers are savvy enough to convince people otherwise,” Reed explained.

The FBI does monitor illegal computer activity and has an entire cyber team dedicated to investigating Internet crimes, but Reed admits ultimately catching the crooks is hard.

Websense runs Triton technology, a security system that helps shut down hackers before they get into your system. The company also has a large map in real time showing the number of malicious attacks on their client’s computer at any given moment.

Astacio said the key to protecting your computer is having several layers of security including a WAP protected WIFI password and strong anti-virus software. He also said to always run the updates on your software because hackers often work in older versions.

“Hackers and security is always a cat and mouse game,” Astacio said. “But to look ahead, the big issue is going to be mobile devices.”

Both Astacio and Reed agree hackers will start to target smartphone and tablets, so they recommend protecting yourself using the same tools as you would for your computer.

If you believe you are a victim of Ransomware or any other cyber scam, you can report it at


11 Comments to “New cyber scam takes your computer hostage”

    Bill Davis said:
    February 25, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    Hello !!

    It would be NICE !! if you warned your readers that the SPYWAREHUNTER costs $39 and that is only for ONE YEAR of usage ..

    I thought it was a FREE service UNTIL !! I had already downloaded it ,,, DAM !!!!!!

    bryan andrew said:
    February 25, 2013 at 11:38 PM

    Yes, how dare you not warn us that something you didnt mention in this article and that you do not advertise for or sell would cost us money. shame on you fox5. how can i ever believe any news story you post from now until the end of time.

    Mark W said:
    February 26, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    Lmao. Even if that crap was true why would WE have to pay a fine because someone else hacked our computer? Stupid people with nothing better to do than to scam people. I hope these people are caught and sentenced to death.

    Someone said:
    February 27, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    LOL, look at the fools above. Don’t worry, they will take it serious when their PC locks and they can’t upload pictures of what they had for dinner to Facebook. smh… Why can Ransomware push the stupid into traffic.

    By the way, you have a typo in the first line of your story.. “Ransonware” said:
    March 5, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    I visited several blogs but the audio feature for audio songs present
    at this web page is really marvelous.

    jack said:
    April 8, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    Very interesting breakdown, indeed. It’s nice to have such information available in one location and some ideas for new and different directions to take to help one stand out.

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