Ransomware is emerging as a major cybercrime strategy, threatening to oust fake anti-virus software as the most popular cyber-attack next year, new research by IT security firm Symantec shows.
A total of 2.8% of victims of ransomware pay a "ransom" of up to £280 to regain access to their computers which have been blocked by cryptoviruses. Victims are tricked into making the payments after receiving fake messages that look like they have been issued by police authorities. Such messages often tell users they must pay a penalty for browsing illegal content.
Cybercriminals pocket £3 million annually from blackmailing users to pay to free their PCs from the malicious software, with one criminal group having tried to plague 495,000 computers in just 18 days, Symantec said, as quoted by IT Pro.
The first cases of ransomware were found in 2009 and were mainly limited to Eastern Europe and Russia.
However, this type of cybercrime is spreading to Western Europe, the USA and Canada, Symantec said. Criminal gangs have been traced back to a single unidentified person who apparently creates ransomware on request.
As consumer demand shifts to mobile devices and the cloud, cyber-attacks will increasingly focus on Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates used by mobile apps, Symantec believes. Meanwhile, according to an earlier report by IT Pro, security experts have identified a new malware strand that steals image files from PCs and dispatches them to a remote server.