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Hacker Holds Computer Files Hostage

Thanks to Inertia for sending this in.

Computer users anxious about viruses and identity theft have a new reason to worry: hackers have found a way to lock up the electronic documents on your computer and then demand a ransom for their return.

Security researchers at Websense, an internet security company based in San Diego, uncovered the unusual extortion plot when a corporate customer they would not identify fell victim to a virus that encrypted documents, photographs and spreadsheets. An e-mail was later sent demanding $200 for the digital keys to unlock the files.

"This is equivalent to someone coming into your home, putting your valuables in a safe and not telling you the combination," Oliver Friedrichs, a security manager for the security company Symantec, said.

"This seems fully malicious," Joe Stewart, a researcher at the security firm Lurhq who studied the attack software, said. Mr Stewart was able to unlock the infected computer files without paying the ransom, but he said that improved versions might be more difficult to overcome.

"You would have to pay the guy, or law enforcement would have to get his key to unencrypt the files," Mr Stewart said. Internet attacks commonly become more effective as they evolve over time as hackers learn to avoid the mistakes of earlier infections.

News source: Times Online

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