Q: My computer is frozen with a message supposedly from the FBI demanding money to unlock my computer.
Answer: What you have run into there is an example of ransomware, a virus that locks up your computer and demands money to unlock it. Needless to say, this is not coming from the FBI.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which is a collaboration between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, keeps track of such viruses. In a typical case, according to a report from IC3, once infected, the victim’s computer immediately locks, and the monitor displays a screen stating there has been a violation of federal law.
“The bogus message goes on to say that the user’s internet address was identified by the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section as having been associated with child pornography sites or other illegal online activity. To unlock their machines, users are required to pay a fine using a prepaid money card service.”
There is no easy fix if your computer becomes infected. The IC3 recommends the following steps:
- Do not pay any money or provide any personal information.
“The FBI does not supporting paying a ransom to the adversary,” according to the site. “Paying a ransom does not guarantee an organization will regain access to their data; in fact, some individuals or organizations were never provided with decryption keys after having paid a ransom. Paying a ransom emboldens the adversary to target other organizations for profit, and provides for a lucrative environment for other criminals to become involved.”
- Contact a computer professional to remove the malware from your computer. You can use another computer or smartphone to search for advice on malware removal online, but it may be wise to turn the matter over to a professional instead.
- Be aware that even if you can unfreeze the computer yourself, the malware may keep running in the background and may be able to capture personal information including usernames, passwords and credit card numbers.
- File a complaint and look for updates about the virus on the IC3 website, www.ic3.gov.
You should also always make sure you have saved all your important documents, with a backup that is offline, in case your system falls victim to this or any other malware. “Some instances of ransomware have the capability to lock cloud-based backups when systems continuously back up in real time, also known as persistent synchronization,” according to IC3. “Backups are critical in ransomware; if you are infected, this may be the best way to recover your critical data.”
The FBI has more advice about ransomware and preventative steps to avoid it at www.fbi.gov/news/stories/incidents-of-ransomware-on-the-rise.
Q: When will you be running a list of shredding events for August?
Answer: A lot of people have been asking for this lately. The list for August and beyond will run in this Saturday’s column. Any groups that are planning events but have not let us know should send an email to email@example.com to be included. Be sure to give time, address, suggested donations and how proceeds will be used.