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'Cryptolocker' computer virus holding users data hostage

by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

khou.com

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:45 AM

Computer experts are stressing the importance of data protection as the 'Cryptolocker' virus spreads. 

The virus, usually installed through unwanted attachments on emails or through questionable websites, encrypts information on computers that, in most cases, cannot be undone.  Hackers force users to pay money to get their information back.

"You cannot get it decrypted," explained Rob Shiras with IT Technologies in West Seattle, "You have to send them money to get out of trouble."

Shiras said his office sees one computer infected with 'Cryptolocker' every week.  Most decide to wipe their hard drive, but recently, someone chose to pay the ransom.

"They gave him 72 hours," recalled Shiras, "He thought about it for 48 hours and said, I need my pictures."

'Cryptolocker' is not a new virus, but it continues to plague computer owners and bother law enforcement.

Inside the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Taskforce Computer Lab in Seattle, a variety of agencies chase leads on cyber crime, including Cryptolocker.

"There is a substantial amount of crime that's just homegrown in the U.S.," said Special Agent in Charge Robert Kierstead, "We also see a lot of action in Eastern Europe."

The Secret Service has branches abroad to help track cyber criminals down, but even law enforcement admit Cryptolocker is the worst kind of virus.

Shiras said once a computer is infected with Cryptolocker, little can be done to retrieve the information lost.  Even paying the ransom does not ensure the data is returned.

The key, Shiras and Kierstead said, is prevention ahead of time.  That includes avoiding questionable websites, not opening emails with attachments from strangers and backing up hard drives regularly.

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