THEY’RE COMING THROUGH YOUR WINDOWS

Stockholm syndrome is when someone who is kidnapped or being held captive by an aggressor becomes sympathetic to their tormentor and might even begin to fall in love with them.

Ransomware is a type virus that finds its way into your computer and then screws around with it until your mind is about to explode, then suggests, or even demands, that you pay a certain amount to remove the problem.

How are these two things related? Simple.

Every day we rely on the technology designed to keep us connected and make our lives easier.

We love our smartphones and their Apps that remind us what time the next train leaves, or what the latest news is, or counts our calories for us.

We email and chat, Skype and blog. We use more technology in our everyday lives than NASA scientists used in a decade just a few decades ago.

We have become beholden to our electronic captors. In love with the freedom to be anywhere in the world, at least mentally if not physically, at the tap of a screen.

It’s only when the all too familiar ‘you’ve been hacked’ messages start appearing, or things start acting quirky, or things simply shut down, that our hearts start racing not with the flush of love, but with the fear of disaster.

Malware is a combination of the words ‘malicious’ and ‘software’, and when you have an issue with Malware, you know things are going to get worse before they get better.

Malware is designed to get into your operating system and screw you over. It comes in in the form of hidden files (sometimes called Trojan in a reference to that big horse the Greeks were on about) and attaches itself to your computer programs where it starts to run amok. Sometimes these little buggers are the creation of clever, but twisted, geeky types who just want to prove that it can be dome, whilst other times they are designed by corporations to squeeze money out of you.

Hence the term ‘Ransomware’.

In the first 3 months of 2013 alone, security software giant McAfee identified 250,000 different versions of Ransomware

affecting computer users around the globe. The term used is ‘crypotviral extortion’ and the theory goes that if the ‘average’ computer user starts having some sudden and fairly hectic problems with their PC, they will jump at the chance of a quick fix when, LO!! Up on the screen pops a suggested fix for some ‘identified viruses’. The solution itself might only cost 10 or 20 USD, and can be downloaded there and then. Amazing.

What a lucky break for the average user….only the chances are that the company now offering the solution planted the problem in the first place. In the old days this was known amongst thieves as the ‘bait and switch’. These days we just call it a scam.

CrytoLocker, a Ransomware ‘worm’ from 2013, managed to make 3 million USD off the despairing and desperate before authorities stepped in and shut the operation down.

These scammers can be pretty sophisticated. Imagine getting a warning that your computer has been identified as one downloading some pretty unpleasant porn. You know you haven’t been doing it, and no one else has access to your PC, so how is that happening? Someone must have hacked into your accounts!!! This part of the process is called ‘scareware’.

The warning continues with a recommendation by a Law enforcement agency. They recommend a particular download that will a) clean your computer by way of a scan and removal system, and b) they will install the software that keeps the nasties away. Phew. What a relief. The warnings may even come from Windows XP, or another big player in the Cyber World, and those guys are huge, reliable and regulated right?

Well, they are, but the internet is a make believe ethereal World anyway, and this is the ‘ransom’ part. Those warnings, they’re fake. Your computer is NOT being used as part of a kiddy-porn Cyber Highway, and the download you are about to pay for and install was designed by the very same people who sent you the warning. They have as much authority on the internet as the Teletubies website.

In and of itself, it’s genius. Cause a problem, sit back and wait for panic to set in, then provide the solution, and the money will roll on in behind it. For the scammers, getting the payoff is easy. Frightened members of the non-cyber-savvy public happily send either a wire transfer, or pay with wire transfer premium-rate text messages or via an ]  online payment voucher service such as Ukash or Paysafecash or the digital currency Bitcoin.

Wiki relates the story from 2011where a Ransomware worm imitating the Windows Product Activation notice surfaced that informed users that a system’s Windows installation would have to be re-activated due to “[being a] victim of fraud”. An online activation option was offered (like the actual Windows activation process), but was unavailable, requiring the user to call one of six international numbers to input a 6-digit code. While the malware claimed that this call would be free, it was routed through a rogue operator in a country with high international phone rates, who placed the call on hold, causing the user to incur large international long distance charges.

Of course, catching these web based criminals is not easy. The fluidity of the crime, the fact that the people committing them are often amongst the brightest and the best technology users in the world, and that authorities using ‘proper’ channels move slowly all hinder the process. The world of Cyber Forensics is a mass of those who hack for good, and those who hack for evil, those who hack for fun, those who hack for profit, and all those in and out of the parameters on a rotational basis. Often these are very fuzzy lines. We are all being monitored all the time anyway. Either by the bad guys who want to relieve us from our hard earned cash, or the very authorities set up to protect our personal freedoms.

The Stockholm syndrome reference is not so obtuse now, is it?

Protection from Malware, scareware and Ransomware comes in the form of education and awareness. But if it was as easy as simply knowing what’s out there, we wouldn’t be affected by these viruses and scams anyway. Every day, millions of us are. Like Hydra, when one head of the snake is cut off, another one appears.

If the big companies are struggling to keep up, what chance do we humble mortals have, other than to brush our teeth regularly, wash our faces and BACK UP EVERYTHING.

That way when we fall in love with our captors, at least we will have a record as to when the penny finally dropped.

#COMPUTERS #SOFTWARE #HACKERS

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