Ransomware attacks are on the rise. A type of malware, ransomware holds your computer hostage by encrypting its data or by making it inaccessible in some way. The ransomware then demands that you pay ransom money to the cybercriminal who installed the malware or tricked you into installing it. Often, the hackers demand payment in digital currency like Bitcoin so nobody can track the payments.
Ransomware is usually a Trojan horse-type malware infection that renders a victim's computer inoperable. The virus frequently includes a pop-up message claiming to be from a law enforcement agency stating that the victim's computer has been involved in some illegal activity, such as downloading copyrighted material, pirated software, etc.
The pop-up notices displayed on infected computers often state that the victim will be arrested unless he or she pays a "fine" to the fictitious law-enforcement agency via wire transfer or by using some other anonymous form of payment.
While many people would be quick to realize that this is a scam, the content of the pop-up message can seem quite convincing, especially when official-looking government seals and logos accompany it. You might think that no one would fall for this type of scam. Still, according to Symantec, up to 2.9 percent of the people targeted by this scam will end up paying the money. They pay out of fear of perceived consequences or desperation to regain access to the data on their computers.
The sad part for victims that pay the "fine" or "fee" to the scammers is that most never receive the code needed to unlock their computer or regain access to the data that was encrypted by the ransomware.
A computer infected with ransomware will become inoperable in some way. It will usually produce a pop-up message explaining what the scammer wants you to do. The key elements of a ransomware scam are the threat made by the software to you or your computer, accompanied by the perpetrator's request for payment. They will also provide you with the method that they want you to submit payment to them.