FBI warns of Internet malware that locks computers, demands money

Posted Aug. 16, 2012, at 6:12 p.m.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Boston Division issued a warning Thursday about a new Internet virus that locks computers and carries a fake message purportedly from the FBI requesting payment to unlock the computer.

In the alert, the FBI’s Boston Division — which covers Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — said it has received an increasing number of reports from individuals who have fallen victim to the scam.

Though she declined to provide numbers, FBI spokeswoman Katherine Gulotta said that about 15 percent of all of the computer complaint calls the FBI has received in the Boston Division have been attributed to the Reveton virus. Of those, 10 percent came from Maine, she said.

Reveton has been identified as “drive-by” malicious software, or malware, because unlike many viruses, which activate when users open a file or attachment, this one can install itself when users simply click on a compromised website.

Once infected, the victim’s computer immediately locks and the monitor displays a screen stating that there has been a violation of federal law.

The fraudulent message goes on to say the user’s Internet address has been identified by the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section as having visited child pornography sites and other illegal content, Gulotta said Thursday.

To unlock their machines, users are told to pay a fine to the U.S. Department of Justice using a prepaid money card service. Gulotta said that the amounts demanded vary but are in the $200 range.

In addition to the “ransomware,” the FBI said, the malware continues to operate on the compromised computer and can be used to commit online banking and credit card fraud.

“In the last week alone, we have seen a large increase in the number of people who have called our office to report the virus infected their computer,” said Kevin Swindon, an assistant special agent in charge of computer crimes in the Boston Division.

“Because your computer can be infected by simply clicking on an infected website, the best prevention is to keep anti-virus software and computer operating systems updated,” Swindon said.

“The FBI will never ask you for money and, more generally, whenever someone asks for money via the Internet, users should always be concerned about the legitimacy of the request because the commonality in nearly all Internet scams is a request for money,” he said.

Those who believe they have been a victim of the scam are advised to file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, at www.ic3.gov, where updates about the Reveton virus can be found.

IC3 was established in 2000 as a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center to provide victims an easy way to report cyber crimes and provide law enforcement and regulatory agencies with a central referral system for complaints.

To hear a podcast about the virus, visit the FBI’s website at www.fbi.gov/news/podcasts/thisweek/reveton-ransomware/view.

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