FBI Warns of Ransomware, Digital Form of Kidnapping

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It's like a digital form of kidnapping, your computer data held for ransom by hackers using a sophisticated new scam known as ransomware.

Sporting goods store owner Steve Merrifield was one of the victims. After 27 years in the business, he'd been preparing to sell it. All the records for potential buyers stored on his computer server. So Merrifield was more than concerned when he realized all of his data had been frozen.

"The last words I remember is, this is not good, this is not good," Merrifield said.

It turned out hackers had taken control of his machine and flashed a message, for $3,000 he could have his data back. But it didn't stop there, he'd have to fork over an additional $1,000 for each week he didn't comply. Merrifield had become a victim of what's called ransomware.

"I can say it's appropriately named," he said. "You feel victimized, you feel helpless."

Ransomware is becoming so pervasive that it prompted the FBI to put out a warning. The bureau says it's getting dozens of complaints each day.

"It's one of the more destructive pieces of malware because they'll encrypt those files and if you don't pay they can just delete them," Bruce Snell, with computer security firm McAfee Security said.

Snell says the hackers use such sophisticated methods that it's virtually impossible to recover your data. It's believed that most are operating overseas, so tracking them down has become futile as well. One reason some fall for the scam is the messages look like they're from the government accusing users of things like child pornography.

"It frightens people and kind of preys on their fear," Snell said.

"In retrospect the amount of grief this will cause us would have been worth the ransom, but that wasn't the approach we took," Merrifield said.

Merrifield never did pay the ransom, nor did he get his data back, even after taking his computer to some of the best experts in the industry.

"After 10 days of diligence, they regret to inform me they cannot recover the data," Merrifield added.

Below is the direct warning from the FBI.


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