Thousands of Australian computers are being locked up by hackers using malicious software that encrypts files and asks for a ransom to make them available again.

Called “Cryptolocker” and “CryptoWall”, the “ransomware” comes in various forms with the CryptoWall version estimated by the government e-safety alert service Stay Smart Online to have infected approximately 20,000 Australian computers.

Computers are typically infected after victims click on a malicious link in an email purporting to be from Australia Post or Telstra. Files on their computer and network drives are then encrypted and a ransom demanded within a certain timeframe before a decryption key is supplied to unlock files. If no ransom is paid, the hackers threaten to never allow access to the files.

But new variants of the software have popped up since, making it difficult for authorities to stop it and for anti-virus and malware protection software makers to detect it on victim computers.

It’s been reported some victims have been charged as much as $1200 to unlock their files. They were often asked to pay in the virtual currency bitcoin. Even a US police department had to pay a ransom to unlock its files.

The best advice is to restore from a back-up, if available or call Living with IT who can crack the virus – 0475 411 793

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