Cyber-criminals are raking in more than stg£3m (€3.76m) a year from victims of ransomware. Ransomware disables a user’s computer until they agree to pay hackers a ransom to free the machine and it is estimated that 2.9pc of victims fall for the scam.
The first instance of a ransomware attack occurred in 2009 and until recently it was largely limited to Russia and Eastern Europe.
However, according to new research by Norton by Symantec, it has recently become a popular ploy by numerous international online crime gangs and it has spread to Western Europe, the US and Canada over the last year.
The criminals often use social engineering tricks, such as displaying fake messages purporting to be from local police authorities, to scare their victims into paying up.
Such messages can read: “You have browsed illicit materials and must pay a fine.”
Fees demanded by the crime gangs range up to stg£280 and one gang attempted to infect 495,000 computers within just 18 days.
Norton by Symantec estimates that Ransomware will surpass fake anti-virus software as the leading cyber-crime strategy in the coming year.
The security software company predicts that in the years ahead conflicts between nations, organisations and individuals will predominantly take place in the cyber world.
It also predicts that as users shift to mobile and cloud, so too will attackers who will exploit Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates used by apps and mobile devices.