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Back to August 2013 ITS Newsletter

Combating Shameware

By Ryan Coyle

How do you identify scam viruses and what do you do when you get one? In a cyber criminal's arsenal of tools, one of its most potent is human psychology.  As mentioned in some of my previous articles, hacking a computer is hard.  While Hollywood glamorizes hackers taking down “the man” in movies like the Matrix, Swordfish and Hackers, the skill that it takes to break into well defended computer networks is well beyond what the average "Joe virus writer" possesses.  To this end, many take the easiest path to success.  Hacking the people in front of the computer.

The Ruse

The ruse is simple.  Machines are simply infected by visiting compromised websites, opening malicious attachments, or clicking on fake social media links.  Rather than doing something malicious with your machine, at this point the attacker will lock you out of your machine.  Often times, you'll see a large warning to you indicating that the FBI has seized control of your computer, usually for the crime of child pornography or something equally heinous.   See an example below:

The Virus

This type of virus goes by a few different names, such as the FBI virus, or the MoneyPak virus, but they’re all similar.  The goal is to part you from your money.  “You” have been identified to have something “naughty” on your computer and the FBI is going to arrest you if you don’t give them $200, payable through your local Walmart, CVS or Rite Aid. 

Step Back

Stepping back for a second and thinking about the absurdity of the whole situation will probably give you a laugh.  Say what you want about the federal government, but chances are that if they actually had the dirt on you like the message says they do, a $200 fine payable at my local Walgreens is probably the last thing I would be worried about.  You may think to yourself, who falls for these scams?  A lot of people do, otherwise criminals would do something else to make money.   In fact, this gentleman turned himself into the police when got the virus, http://bit.ly/17FXJwp .  Rather than think things through, people get scared and want to make the bad message go away, or sweep it under the table.  Paying the money in this case will never do that for you.

What Will Fear Make You Do?

These types of scams proliferate based on fear.  What if I had accidentally.. or what did my kid look up on the computer.. or any number of things can float through your mind when you get a big scary message from the “FBI”.  The important thing to note is, it’s not real.  With almost every single one of these types of messages, there are tell tale markers which help point out that it’s a fake.  The most glaring of these is usually bad punctuation and grammar.

What Should You Do?

With anything like this, it’s always best to stop, take a step back and evaluate the situation.  If you come across these viruses or their variants, never give them your phone number, email address, or worst of all, credit information.  If you contract it, seek help from a computer professional, as typically these infections are very simple to remove.  Don’t buy into the hype.