This message popped up on my screen earlier this week, bringing everything that was running on my PC to a halt and sending me into paroxysms of panic that the police would imminently be knocking on my door with allegations of impropriety.
The message accused me of illegal online activity and threatened prison sentences and enormous penalties to pay, unless with 72 hours I paid an £100 lump sum via a payment site called ekash. It seemed questionable, but with my computer refusing to return to normal behaviour, I started to think about paying up.
My panic levels were not helped by the presence of some kind of web cam, that made it look like I was under surveillance. I started to wonder what I’d look like in orange.
Thankfully – and, with hindsight, obviously – it was a virus that I had inadvertently downloaded. Googling (on another computer) revealed that it was “Malaware”, and specifically it was something called “Ransomware”, which according to the world wide web is Not A Good Thing. The ekash website – it’s apparently a legitimate company, but not when used in this way – explains:
Ransomware is software used by internet criminals to stop your computer working. They ask for money to unlock your files to return your PC to a normal working state. Ransomware enters your computer like any other malicious software, sometimes just by visiting an infected website.
Suffice to say, the advice online was not to pay, but instead to detect and remove the virus, which essentially involved resetting my computer to a time before the virus appeared. There are lots of sites explaining how to do that; one can be found here.
So, no police raid, just a nasty virus and a reminder of just how low computer hackers are willing to go.