"Cough up $300, or you'll never see your vacation photos again!! :-$"
Sound funny? Well, it isn't. It is very real and could happen to you. There is a malicious piece of malware that had been making its way around the internet since early September called "Cryptolocker." The idea behind it is that once it's on your computer, it will begin to encrypt your files in the background and continue to encrypt your files if left unchecked.
[In Techspeak, encryption is the process of converting your files into a code that can only be read by an authorized person, or if decrypted.]
A notification (read: ransom note) on your screen will alert you, stating that if you don't pay a predetermined amount within a certain amount of time (normally within 72 hours), your files will be locked forever. On the other hand, if you comply, you will receive a code to decrypt your files. Think of it like this: you let someone into your home and they change all of the locks, then add additional locks to every floor and refuse to give you the key unless you pay them. If you value those pictures of Fido doing hand stands, your little girl at her recital, or the final draft to the next best seller you have been writing, you will most likely pay.
It is a nasty one, that Cryptolpcker, and it does not discriminate. It is also smart enough to evade your anti-virus software.
Don't fall victim... be careful what you download and what websites you visit.
You can visit Foolish IT, a very useful utility that will help mitigate some of the risk for more information.
The Tech Whisperer is an IT Manager on the east coast with over 25 years of experience in IT, a self-proclaimed autodidact, and a happy father of 6 future world leaders.
Image attribution: By CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons