Online criminals are using new, more malicious techniques to pressure victims of information theft to pay a ransom to unlock illegally encrypted computer files.

Malicious software, that can lock your files using encryption (known as ransomware), can inadvertently be installed on your computer by clicking on untrustworthy attachments or links in emails. In a recent strain of this type of ransomware, criminals are threatening to upload and publicly display stolen files online if a ransom is not paid for the digital ‘key’. Ransom payments are being demanded in the digital currency ‘bitcoin’.

While security researchers believe the ransomware known as Chimera cannot be used to share files on the internet, attackers seem to be making the claim to increase pressure on victims to pay up.

For businesses and sole traders in particular, having files published in a publicly accessible location could represent a damaging security breach, and potential loss of business.    

The ‘Chimera’ ransomware operates in much the same way as previous ransomware attacks. A victim is tricked into clicking on a link in a malicious email or visiting a website that hosts the malware. Chimera then infects the victim’s computer so the person can no longer access their files. After the victim restarts his or her computer, they are shown a message that demands they pay a ransom in order to retrieve their files.

The researchers say Chimera is distributed largely through targeted emails to prospective victims at small companies.

Staying safe

Prevention is always better than a cure, particularly with ransomware. You are advised to keep your security software, including antivirus systems, fully up to date, and be cautious of emails from unknown sources, or viewing websites of dubious origin.

If you are infected with ransomware, you will need to restore your files from backups. If you do not currently back up your files and data regularly, Stay Smart Online has information to assist you with backing up your information. If are unsure about the equipment required or what to do, we recommend you seek technical advice to suit your needs. This is particularly important for businesses, as not having backups can restrict operations for a considerable length of time, which may lead to loss of income.

Stay Smart Online does not advise that victims pay a ransom to unlock files locked by Chimera or any other type of ransomware. Paying the ransom does not protect you against future attacks, and the attacker may also record that your computer systems are vulnerable. In addition, they may have installed remote access tools that could provide them access to your computer after the ransom is paid.

More information

Stay Smart Online has information on securing your computers as well as a Guide for Small Business to basic online safety.

The information provided here is of a general nature. Everyone's circumstances are different. If you require specific advice you should contact your local technical support provider.