After receiving a worrying amount of complaints and questions from Angelenos whose virtual security has been compromised, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Friday reminded residents of a menacing computer virus that renders the machines useless until users pay a fine, which lines the pockets of a mysterious third party.
The FBI first issued a warning about the scam in August 2012. The sheriff's department on Friday said Southland residents are being victimized and reiterated the warning.
Unlike many viruses which work if the user opens a file or attachment, the Reveton ransomware can install itself when users simply click on a compromised website, according to the FBI, which calls it a "drive-by virus."
An infected computer will immediately lock and display a screen (pictured below) stating there has been a violation of federal law and that the FBI has identified the user’s Internet address as being associated with illegal online activity, such as child pornography.
In order to unlock the computer, a user must pay a fine, the agency said. One user was prompted to pay $200 via a MoneyPak order.
To help protect your computer, experts advise to keep your antivirus software up to date, have a consistent backup plan just in case, and only download files you know to be reputable.
The Reveton virus first caught the attention of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2011. Warnings were issued the following year and since then the virus – which agents say cannot be easily removed by the average computer user – has become widespread.
The IC3 suggests doing the following if your computer is infected with the virus:
- Do not pay any money or provide any personal information.
- Contact a computer professional to remove Reveton and Citadel from your computer.
- Be aware that even if you are able to unfreeze your computer on your own, the malware may still operate in the background. Certain types of malware have been known to capture personal information such as user names, passwords, and credit card numbers through embedded keystroke logging programs.
- File a complaint and look for updates about the Reveton virus on the IC3 website.