Amarillo, TX - A ransomware virus that takes a computer's files hostage is affecting people across the Panhandle.
The Cryptolocker virus is a form of extortion computer hackers are using to steal your money in order to save your computer data. It all starts in an email from a source claiming to be either UPS or the U.S. Postal Service with information on how to track a shipment in the mail. Once the email is opened, all the data stored on your hard drive is at risk.
The virus essentially locks your computer by encrypting all your files, and the scammers won't give you the key unless you pay up. A countdown begins and the Cryptolocker virus gives its victims 72 hours to pay a ransom fee before all the encrypted computer files are erased. "When your computer becomes infected with the Cryptolocker virus, the screen will actually flash and say you've got this virus and pay us x amount of dollars to unencrypt your files," explained Andrew Brandt, the owner of All Star Computer Services. "So as soon as you see that, your files are already starting to be encrypted. The best thing you can do is turn off your computer because if your computer is off then that program cannot run."
Brandt said if you take out your hard drive, there is still hope to recover some of your files. "Once your hard drive is out of your computer, you can manually transfer those files onto a Linux server that is not tied to Windows and then reformat your hard drive. Unfortunately, when doing that method you lose a lot of your programs but your data, your pictures, your music, and documents can be saved that way."
If you do pay the ransom fee, it is no guarantee the hackers will unlock your files, but it can happen. "Yes, sometimes. But not every time," said Brandt. "That is why it is more important to get your files off your infected hard drive and format that drive instead of paying that x amount of dollars, because it is usually $500."
Keeping a back up of all your files on an external hard drive is also recommended. The FBI estimates people have paid more than $27 million in ransom fees nationwide since Cryptolocker first appeared last year.