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Cryptolocker is one of the most high profile computer attacks in recent years. The concept is not new but it is so prevalent that the UK National Crime Agency has deemed it to be of "significant risk".

What you need to know....

Although this is not technically a Computer virus, as it is not self propagating, many will use the term to describe it. If we are being pedantic it is malware or malicious software.

Cryptolocker arrives in an email, often masquerading as a voicemail, fax or invoices for payment. The attached filename may appear convincing however when opened it will install the malware.

In essence Cryptolocker will wade through all the files on your PC (and any devices attached to it), encrypting the file contents (usually documents, spreadsheets, photos). When complete you will be advised of the infection and the only way to decrypt the files it to make a payment! There is a time limit of 72 hours for payment!

Once infect there is no way back.

Example warning on an infected Cryptolocker PC

Example warning on an infected Cryptolocker PC

The attack is very real -- currently there is no way to reverse the process without making payment; only the criminals have the necessary key. Payment is around £530.

The NCA and police recommend you do NOT pay these criminals as you would be funding organised crime. There's also no guarantee a payment will then result in a fix.

How to protect yourself:

  • Vigilance is always the best strategy. Never open a file attached to an email that appears suspicious. If you have any concerns check with the sender (if you know them) otherwise do not open it.
  • ALWAYS have up-to-date virus protection installed. Make sure you are set to receive automatic updates too. Most good virus scanners will now detect Cryptolocker if they have been updated recently.
  • Take regular backups. If you do become infected the only way to recover will be via a backup. File sync'ing tools such as DropBox, GoogleDrive, Skydrive are not effective backups. If you become infected the files will also be sync'd to these services. You must use a good backup tool.

Cryptolocker is only active on Windows computers; if you use an Apple Mac/iOS, Chrome OS, Linux there is no threat.

Currently the malware emails appear to be targeting small businesses however be vigilant on your personal email too.

Stay safe people.

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