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Has there ever been a more brilliant hacking scam in the history of America, or the world, for that matter?
Ransomware is a virus that takes over your computer, locks the screen and all functionality, and then demands a ransom before it (sometimes) returns control over your computer. Sometimes, when payment is sent, an unlock code is passed to a server, which then releases the "kidnapped" system. Other times, they'll take the money and run.
Jay Matthew Riley, 21, is now very familiar with ransomware. Concerned after receiving an "FBI Warning" on his personal computer, the young man walked into his local police station in Woodbridge, Virginia and inquired as to whether there were any warrants, under his name, for child pornography. He also voluntarily brought his computer into the station and allowed a search, according to Ars Technica.
After the search was completed, he was arrested for child pornography, solicitation of a minor, and indecent liberties with a minor. Police were able to identify one of his victims as a 13-year-old girl from Minnesota. Needless to say, the warning was a fake. His alleged crime, however, was not.
Note to readers: we're going to withhold judgment on Mr. Riley until conviction, both because of the "innocent until proven guilty" notion, and because viruses that download child pornography do exist.
Also, here's a free security warning: if your screen ever locks up and asks you to pay a criminal fine before relinquishing control, it is always a virus. Don't pay. Seek help from your nearest tech geek instead.
And if you have child pornography on your computer, gee whiz, go to your nearest police station and ask them for help. They'll be glad to assist you. (Note: This is not legal advice.)
The brilliance of ransomware lies in its simplicity. There is no phishing scam, fake passwords, or intricate sites. The virus simply locks the computer and demands a ransom for its release, reports Symantec.
In most cases, it will display law enforcement logos and demand payment of a criminal fine immediately. It may even use the infected computer's IP address to determine their physical location, and then, in order to enhance credibility, will use logos from the closest police agency. Symantec, a computer security firm, estimates this as a $5 million per year scam.
We'd never support hacking, hijacking computers, or any other illegal activity, but this is, in an evil way, pretty brilliant. And if it catches a few sexual predators along the way, we're certainly happy about the ends, if not the means.