A research scholar at Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology was in for a rude shock as all his work disappeared before his eyes after data on his computer was taken “hostage” with a ransom demand in lieu of securing its release.
Chandra Bhushan Tripathi was looking for information on the internet on February 3 when he lost access to all the data he had stored on his laptop. It was only later that he realised that he had fallen victim to a devastating malware, or a malicious software, called ‘ransomware’ — a first in the state.
“A link flashed on my laptop screen,...which I clicked by mistake. After some time, I saw that all the files in my laptop had the extension ‘micro’ and when I tried to open them, a message flashed on the screen saying if I want to have access to my data, then I have to pay a certain amount in Bitcoin. It also said that the more I delay the more the amount of Bitcoin would increase,” Tripathi told HT.
Ransomware is a relatively new kind of malware that uses encryption to lock out users from the data on their computer. The attacker then forces the victim to pay a ransom, usually in untraceable Bitcoins, to decrypt and release the data.
“The message also mentioned an ID and some websites, asking me to visit them and pay the required Bitcoin amount. But I was too afraid to click those websites and contacted information technology experts and company officials of my laptop to solve this problem, but in vain... I approached the state cyber cell of the Madhya Pradesh police and lodged a complaint,” said Tripathi.
“I lost all the data stored in my laptop, which was about 50 gigabytes,” he added.
The Madhya Pradesh police cyber cell on February 27 registered a case against unknown people for unauthorised access to another computer under Section 66 of the Information Technology Act.
“The case was the first of its kind registered in Madhya Pradesh. We have registered a case against the unknown accused and investigations are on,” said Mahendra Singh, inspector, state cyber cell, Madhya Pradesh police.
The only way to protect yourself from such malicious attacks is by exercising caution while browsing the internet, said Shivansh Batra, an information technology expert.
“One should avoid hyperlinks that often flash on the screen while using the internet and also be careful while opening spam mails... Apart from this, one should keep a licensed [copy of an] anti-virus software in their computer systems and update it on a regular basis to keep their systems safe from such malware attacks,” he said.