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Your Money or Your Documents

Imagine opening up the personal documents file on your computer and finding a ransom note warning you that all of your precious files will be deleted unless you wire money to cyber crooks. That's exactly what happened over the past several days to more than a thousand victims, many of them employees at U.S.-based companies and government contractors.

According to this Reuters story, this extortion attack played out at some of the nation's biggest corporations, including Booz Allen Hamilton, computer services company Unisys Corp., defense contractor L-3 Communications, computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. and satellite network provider Hughes Network Systems. These were just the victims that rose to the top of the hit list. There are hundreds more.

Strangely enough, the story makes hardly any mention of the extortion attack itself, saying the malicious code was designed to steal data from infected machines. Russian anti-virus company Kaspersky Lab has a more detailed look at this intruder, including a copy of the ransom note, which demands $300 for a special key supposedly designed to let victims unscramble documents encrypted by the virus.

David Perry, global director of education for anti-virus maker Trend Micro, said he's curious why the attackers in this case asked for such a small amount.

"It seems like a tall risk to take for such little reward," Perry said, adding that virtual blackmail is the type of crime that attracts interest from multiple, international law enforcement entities. "This stuff is taken pretty seriously these days."

My theory is that perhaps in the virus writers' hometown, $300 may be a great deal of money. Moreover, it's a decent price point: They're probably far more likely to convince people to cough up $300 than they are $3,000. Besides, $300 is slightly less than it costs just to buy a brand new computer these days.

At any rate, if you are unlucky enough to get hit with something like this, try to be patient. As with similar extortionist attacks in the past, Trend, Kaspersky and other anti-virus firms are hard at work on devising a free decryption key that should help companies and individuals regain access to their documents.

By Brian Krebs  |  July 17, 2007; 12:13 PM ET
Categories:  Latest Warnings  
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