Holding Data Hostage: The Perfect Internet Crime?

Tom Simonite at MIT Technology Review: “Every so often someone invents a new way of making money on the Internet that earns wild profits, attracts countless imitators, and reshapes what it means to be online. Unfortunately, such a shift took place last year in the world of online crime, with the establishment of sophisticated malicious software known as ransomware as a popular and reliable business model for criminals.

After infecting a computer, perhaps via an e-mail attachment or a malicious website, ransomware automatically encrypts files, which may include precious photos, videos, and business documents, and issues an electronic ransom note. Getting those files back means paying a fee to the criminals who control the malware—and hoping they will keep their side of the bargain by decrypting them.

The money that can be made with ransomware has encouraged technical innovations. The latest ransomware requests payment via the hard-to-trace cryptocurrency Bitcoin and uses the anonymizing Tor network. Millions of home and business computers were infected by ransomware in 2014. Computer crime experts say the problem will only get worse, and some believe mobile devices will be the next target….

The recent rise of ransomware prompted the FBI to issue a report last month in which it warned that the crime poses a threat not only to home computer users but also to “businesses, financial institutions, government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations.”

Some security researchers predict that 2015 will see significant efforts by criminals to get ransomware working on smartphones and tablets as well. These devices often contain highly prized personal files such as photos and videos….(More)”