What is screen-locking ransomware?

It’s an all-too-common scenario. A user turns on their computer to find they’re locked out of the system altogether. On the screen is an ominous message, apparently from a law enforcement agency: “Authorities have detected illegal activity on your computer.” It’s an alarming statement, especially when accompanied by a demand that you pay a fine or face prosecution. Fortunately, these scary messages are merely part of a scam.

“Ransomware” is a class of malicious software (malware) designed to extort money. A common type of ransomware is called scareware, which aims to frighten the victim with legal threats. Scareware commonly locks down the victim’s computer or mobile device. It displays a full-screen message informing the user that illegal material or activity has been found on their device, such as pirated media or illegal pornography. The message may be emblazoned with the logo of an agency such as the FBI or a local police service. The user is informed that unless they pay a fine – often hundreds or even thousands – they face much higher financial penalties or even a prison term.

Even knowing that you’re innocent, it may be tempting to pay the supposed fine just to avoid any further unpleasantness and regain control of your computer. After all, the message looks official, and most people don’t want to get into trouble with the police. These screen-locking pop-ups, however, don’t originate with law enforcement. They’re the work of criminals who use threats like these to terrorise the unsuspecting public out of their money.

In reality, no law enforcement agency operates in this way. If your computer has been used to commit a crime, you’ll be contacted by law enforcement directly. Should you be fined, this will be done through official channels – not via a pop-up.

If you fall victim the best action is to completely power off the computer and get the malicious threat removed as soon as possible with a virus removal. Here at Nexus IT we can ensure the infection is thoroughly removed from your computer so that it is safe to use again.

Aside from getting the computer cleaned it is also advised that you report the threat to law enforcement. Many agencies now offer a dedicated phone number or email where you can do this, which you can find on the agency’s website.

To prevent your system from falling victim to this kind of threat, always practise good security. Don’t give out your passwords, install anti-malware utilities, and update all your software regularly. You should also take frequent backups and store your backups in multiple places (such as in the cloud aswell as an encrypted USB stick / external hard drive) so that you won’t lose data in the event of a serious malware attack.

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