Ransomware, a form of malicious software, has been making headlines in recent weeks. A particularly nasty strain of it took over hundreds of thousands of computers in 74 countries in about a day.
But it’s not a new phenomenon. According to some cybersecurity experts, it has evolved into a $1 billion industry. And it’s predicted to become more lucrative.
How? Unfortunately, hackers have found clever — and sometimes simple, unsophisticated — ways to weasel their way into your digital lives.
One new attack is a bit like a Ponzi scheme. Or perhaps even a chain letter.
Often transmitted by email or web pop-ups, ransomware involves locking up people’s data and threatening to destroy it if a ransom is not paid. But some hackers have a novel twist on that attack: The first message to pop up on computer screens lets the victims know they have been hacked. The second message gives them a way out.
The victims have a choice, writes Sheera Frenkel, our newest cybersecurity reporter: Pay the hackers a ransom of one bitcoin, a digital currency worth roughly $2,365, in exchange for regaining access to the computer, or try to infect two new people on behalf of the attackers.
If someone the victim knew fell for the bait and became infected, the attackers would consider the ransom paid and cede control of the infected computer. Researchers are still watching to see if the scheme is successful.
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