Virtual virus a real-world threat

PETALING JAYA - Imagine suddenly not being able to access any programs or files on your mobile phone or computer!

A message then pops up on your screen, telling you that you have to pay a fee to "unlock" these files.

More Malaysians are finding their devices infected with "ransomware", which is being used by cyber criminals to extort money from their victims.

The malware can be spread via email attachments. Once it gets into your computer or mobile phone, it can "lock" or encrypt your files, with no way to undo this.

Computer security company Kaspersky Lab said it had managed to prevent 30,492 infection attempts on computers in Malaysia so far this year.

Its principal security analyst Vicente Diaz said these were only the attempts detected by the company, and the actual numbers were much higher.

"Once the computer or mobile phone gets infected, the malware encrypts your files, and you cannot access them unless you have the password.

"The only thing you can do is take measures to prevent from getting infected," he said.

He said ransomware was becoming an increasingly popular method used by cyber criminals.

The number of attempts on mobile phones, he said, was still negligible but could increase in the future.

"In Europe, we see them use ransomware to target people and also companies.

"They ask for €3,000 (S$4500) to decrypt the files and a lot of people are paying because they are desperate," he said.

After the first ransomware was detected, he said other cyber criminals had begun copying the method and there were various forms of the malware now.

"The numbers in Malaysia are still relatively small, but I expect it will increase soon," he said.

Last year, the company detected 132,411 ransomware infection attempts in Malaysia, he said.

"This puts Malaysia in the 83rd position in the world of a total of 215 countries or territories being attacked with ransomware," he said.