Russian cybercriminals have launched a vicious new scam that uses the threat of child pornography to hijack victims' computers until they pay a ransom fee.
Detected by researchers at the security firm Bitdefender, the scam spreads via a Trojan hidden in "innocent-seeming links" on social networking sites and in emails. Once the rigged link is clicked on, the Trojan penetrates the computer and alerts the user that child pornography has been found on the system.
That's only part of the problem; the Trojan doesn't simply warn the victim, it effectively hijacks their computer, displaying a message that takes up 90 percent of the screen and prevents the operating system from running properly, Bitdefender said.
To eradicate what they now believe is child porn and to regain control of their computers, victims are prompted to pay the con artists about $17 within 12 hours, or they will be reported to the police and all their computer's data will be blocked or deleted.
Although the bait in this scam is particularly nasty, the structure of it follows the form of nearly all "scareware " exploits, in which victims are pressured, usually through fear of computer failure, into purchasing software they don't need.
As with a majority of Internet scams, this one can be prevented by exercising some basic Web sense. For example, if you receive a suspicious link in an unsolicited email, do not open it; online crooks nearly always hide malicious Trojans and viruses in attachments. And always keep up-to-date anti-malware and anti-virus software running on your computer, which can help detect and eliminate threats like these long before they reach you.