Garda warning over 'ransomware' hoax


IRISH INTERNET users have been warned of a hoax that locks computers and then fraudulently sends bogus Garda messages in an attempt to extract money.

The latest wave of so-called “ransomware” targets its victims with police logos from their local law enforcement agency and demands payments of fake police fines.

Ransomware is a form of malicious software that hijacks computers and demands a ransom be paid for the computer to be unlocked.

The newest trend, known as “the police Trojan”, locates the victim geographically and presents them with a pop-up message using their country’s police force logo along with other images and specific information to make it appear genuine.

The message accuses the victim of visiting illegal websites and engaging in criminal activity, stating they must pay €100 to have the computer unlocked.

The countries affected by this widespread hacking phenomenon in recent months include Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Britain.

A statement from the Garda said: “Intelligence suggests it is to spread to more [countries] including Ireland. The probability is that further jurisdictions will be targeted in future.’’

Sgt Margaret Flanagan from the Garda Press Office said: “There is no evidence of this scam in Ireland yet but gardaí are issuing the warning as a preventative measure.

“Anyone who encounters this scam is advised to never give financial details over the internet. If a virus attacks your computer, ensure it is repaired by a reputable business and notify gardaí.”

The victim’s computer becomes infected with a virus after visiting a website that contains the malicious software.

Once the virus has activated, it locks the computer and displays the scam page to the victim. Ransomware generates millions of euro for organised criminal groups.

Last month, police officers from 14 EU states affected by police ransomware met representatives from Europol, the EU law enforcement agency that handles criminal intelligence. The meeting was held to discuss ways of combating the hoax.

Despite payment of fines, affected computers will not be unlocked until the machine is successfully disinfected.