By Kymberly Martin

Symantec’s head of consumer product marketing, David Hall, calls it a social engineering trick, but for the victims it is much more sinister. People switch on their PC with a message attached that claims to be from the Australian Federal Police goes something like this: “Pay up or you don’t get your PC back.’ And, incredibly people do pay up in most cases.

“This highly targeted message is quite scary,” Hall said. “Let’s face it many people don’t have perfect internet habits with illegal downloading of music or websites they have been to. Or maybe the kids have stolen a movie. It is an emotive thing and this is how these cyber criminals convince people to pay up.”

He said this ‘trick’ predicts how someone responds when told their stuff is for ransom, and they are more likely to pay for this online extortion.

Hall said more people are getting hit here. “Previously other scams would come through a mobile or a phone. The phone-based scam got a lot of media attention so the community were prepared with a bit of resistance to this one.” However, ransomware is more serious as the computer gets infected with a virus that locks it down. One of the latest variants of ransomware has a terrorist motive with 72 hours to pay or get arrested, he said. Another might involve visits to pornography sites. 

And how much are victims forking out? According to Hall cyber criminals in Europe are charging between €50 and €100 and in the US $200 to clean up the device, although most of the time this clearing does not happen.

“Consumers need multi-layered protection. If you can stop these scams getting to the consumer then that is a lot of the battle. Helping to educate the consumer, that is the rest of the battle. Social networking also helps to educate people quickly but the scams can move just as fast, so it is a double-edged sword,” he said.

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