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Virtual files held for ransom

IT department offers virus prevention tips

Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 00:10


William Guerra

The A&M IT department sent a mass email to all students on Tuesday warning them that a serious computer virus called CryptoLocker is spreading across campus.

Allison Oslund, assistant director of product strategy and communication for Texas A&M Information Technology, said CryptoLocker is a new type of virus called ransomware that locks down personal files then presents a ransom, usually around $300.

Oslund said the virus is often sent out in emails disguised as a PDF or zip file.

“The virus will begin to encrypt all of your personal files (documents, spreadsheets, images),” Oslund said in an email. “Once it is finished it will lock them down so that you cannot use them. Then it will present a ransom note asking for some amount of money to decrypt the files.”

Oslund said paying the ransom does not guarantee file access will be restored.

“Once the ransom message appears there’s nothing you can do,” Oslund said. “If you’ve opened an attachment and something doesn’t seem right, turn your computer off immediately and take it to Help Desk Central.”

Antivirus software does not detect the CryptoLocker virus until after the damage is finished. Oslund said the cost of the virus can be steep.

“If you get this virus you will permanently lose every personal file on your computer,” Oslund said. “Worse yet, it will encrypt every folder mapped to your computer. That is, if you have a flash drive connected or are connected to a share drive, they can be encrypted as well.”

Oslund said students should keep a backup of files on a flash drive or on a system that is regularly backed up.

“This won’t keep the virus from infecting your computer, but will keep you from losing everything if it does,” Oslund said.

Oslund said being cautious is imperative.

“Be smart while surfing online,” Oslund said. “Stick to the sites you know and avoid links that seem too good to be true. This virus may even be attached to a fake UPS or Fedex tracking information email.”

Khrystyna Konopatska, an international affairs graduate student, was at Help Desk Central Tuesday to resolve her computer issues. She said as bad as her current computer problems are, the CryptoLocker $300 ransom fee would be an insurmountable obstacle.

“It would be very bad,” Konopatska said. “That’s my food budget for a month. I don’t want to be without that. It’s impossible.”

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