Aug. 9, 2012 at 6:02 PM ET
The FBI issued a warning Thursday about a new malware scheme that is meant to deceive and frighten computer users into thinking it's from the law enforcement agency itself. Worse, the malware also tries to immediately extort users into paying a fine online and it can lock your computer. You may need an expert's help to get it unlocked, the agency said.
"We’re getting inundated with complaints," said Donna Gregory of the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in a statement on the FBI's website.
Users can find themselves faced with "Reveton ransomware," as it's called, by clicking on a compromised website, the FBI said.
"Once infected, the victim’s computer immediately locks, and the monitor displays a screen stating there has been a violation of federal law," similar to the one shown here.
The bogus message goes on to say that the user’s Internet address was identified by the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section as having been associated with child pornography sites or other illegal online activity. To unlock their machines, users are required to pay a fine using a prepaid money card service.
"Some people have actually paid the so-called fine," said Gregory.
According to one consumer account shared by the FBI, a user was Web-browsing when:
... a window popped up with no way to close it. The window was labeled FBI and said I was in violation of one of the following: illegal use of downloaded media, under-age porn viewing, or computer-use negligence. It listed fines and penalties for each and directed me to pay $200 via a MoneyPak order. Instructions were given on how to load the card and make the payment. The page said if the demands were not met, criminal charges would be filed and my computer would remain locked on that screen.
Even more frightening, some variants of Reveton "can even turn on computer webcams and display the victim’s picture on the frozen screen," the FBI said.
And, there is "no easy fix" for those whose computers become infected.
"Unlike other viruses, Reveton freezes your computer and stops it in its tracks," Gregory said. "And the average user will not be able to easily remove the malware."
The Internet Crime Complaint Center recommends the following if you are unlucky enough to become a victim of this malware:
The FBI says the Reveton virus first came to its attention last year, and that the Internet Crime Complaint Center issued a warning on its website in May of this year. Since then, the FBI said, "the virus has become more widespread in the United States and internationally."