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Oct 26, 2013 11:23 AM EDT

Crypto Locker Virus: New Aggressive Computer Virus Demands Ransom

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A new computer virus is being called one of the strongest and most devastating viruses in history, strikes by literally holding the computer owners hostage, the Inquisitr reported.

The CryptoLocker Virus - which not only has the potential to destroy a computer hard drive,  but holds the computer owners data ransom -infects computers through a legitimate-looking email, usually from a reputable company like FedEx or UPS. Once opened, the virus quickly spreads to the computer's hard drive and then offers the user a chance to rid the program for a hefty fee.

"Ransomware causes your computer files to be non-accessible and when that happens you have two choices. You can recover if you have a backup which I hope you do or pay the ransom within 100 hours. If you do not pay the ransom you lose all of your data," technology expert Anthony Mongeluzo told MyFoxPhilly.

Simply ignoring the hostage takers isn't an option, Mongeluzo said. If the computer has photos or files that are needed, the CryptoLocker Virus puts a lock on them that can only be opened when the ransom is paid.

The virus gives computer owners a certain amount of time to pay up or their data will be gone. Experts say the viruses are becoming more sophisticated and more prevalent.

The CryptoLocker will encrypt users' files using asymmetric encryption, which requires both a public and private key. The public key is used to encrypt and verify data, while private key is used for decryption, each the inverse of the other. Decryption is impossible unless a user has the private key stored on the cybercriminals' server.

Currently, infected users are instructed to pay $300 USD to receive this private key.

"The way they're accepting payments is bitcoin, a new form of cash that's been making headway on the Internet. It's used for lot of illegal activities." Mongeluzo said.

 "You buy this $300 Green Dot MoneyPak, you cannot use a credit card for it, it had to be cash or debit card. Once they claim the funds, they unlock your files. If those files had been lost, it could've affected 10 years' worth of work by several departments," one of the affected users told ABC 13.

Using bitcoins makes the virus' origins harder to trace. 

"It will disguise itself as JPEG images, as PDF files, as Microsoft Office files," said Troy Viers, an IT specialist for ABC 33-40. "If you get an email from somebody you do not know, especially if it's got attachments, don't open anything with it, just delete the email."

Computer experts say there could be one way around the virus. There are already copycats to the Crypto Locker Virus that demand money but don't actually lock the computer down. Taking an infected computer to an expert can determine if this is the case, the Inquisitr reports.

But there are some ways to prevent the Crypto Locker Virus from taking hold, they note. Experts recommend that you never open an email from an unknown source, and back up all important files.

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