Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

August 30, 2013

Police issue cyber warning

‘FBI’ online ruse can cripple computer

VALDOSTA — With so many Internet scams and viruses in circulation, still one would not expect an attack on the computer of the Valdosta police chief.

VPD Chief Brian Childress said when he arrived at his office Thursday morning, an email he had opened the previous night apparently contained a virus that had taken over his computer.

“My screen said, ‘Your computer has been seized by the FBI’s Cyber Crime Unit.’ It contained instructions on where to send money to have my screen unlocked. Our IT department couldn’t get it unlocked and had to reload my computer,” Childress said.

Later in the morning, Childress said a Valdosta State University student came into the VPD, scared, because she received the same message.

“All you can do is take it to a computer technician or reload it yourself,” he said. “But the FBI has warnings out on these viruses, and don’t ever send money to someone if you get a message like this. It’s a scam.”

Childress was the victim of “ransomware,” software that encrypts a user’s hard drive and demands payment in order to decrypt it, effectively kidnapping or hijacking the computer. The software is typically downloaded onto a computer via an email attachment, but there are other ways it can infect your computer.

“The FBI says to not open any attachment you receive if you don’t know who it’s from. Delete it immediately,” said Childress.

Ransomware can also be loaded onto your computer when you browse popular websites, according to the FBI’s website on email scams.

“Once the web browser is exploited, the victim’s computer displays a pop-up warning that appears to be from the FBI. Cyber criminals use ‘FBI.gov’ within the URL to make the warning appear more legitimate,” the website warning states.

Even if victims pay the “fine,” it will not unlock the computer. The FBI instructions for removing the warning page and unlocking the screen are “by clicking on the Safari menu and choosing the ‘Reset Safari,’ option, making sure all check boxes are selected. You may also hold down the shift key while relaunching Safari, which will prevent Safari from reopening windows and tabs from the previous session. Victims can also disable the reopening feature across OS X from the general pane of system preferences.”

The FBI considers these types of scams as attempts to extort money, and requests that anyone who receives this type of email forward it to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov and also, to file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.

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