Beware the 'hostage' virus

Scotland YardDominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The police have issued a warning about a virus infecting computers around the UK. It locks users out, claiming illegal activity has been detected on your computer, and demanding a fine is paid in order to let you back in.

So could you fall victim, and what can you do?
The scam claims to be from Scotland Yard. It causes the PC to freeze and a message appears, saying: "Forbidden websites containing pornography, child pornography... were visited from this IP address. This locking serves to stop you illegal activity." The message then demands a payment of £100.

Could you fall victim?

It's actually not a brand new virus. It's an UKash virus, which has been around for a while, but is doing the rounds again, and a number of attacks have been reported in the last couple of months in the UK and Germany.

The scam isn't targeted at anyone in particular, it is embedded in legitimate websites that have been hacked by the criminal gangs. When you click on a link it automatically downloads the virus, and then when you next power up the computer the message appears. One victim claims he got the virus after clicking a link on YouTube, but the virus could be hidden anywhere without the website owners being aware.

Those who are particularly vulnerable are those who have not kept their software updated. Online software such as Flash need to be updated as older versions may be vulnerable. Those without virus protection software are generally more vulnerable.

What should you do?

The police have highlighted that no police force would ever contact people in this way, and that these messages are without exception a scam. It is working with other forces around the world in order to track down the criminals behind the scam. If you receive this message, therefore, it's essential that you don't waste your money by paying the fine.

Instead it's worth approaching a reputable computer engineer to help you, or if you have a separate computer and you're technically literate, there are online instructions for how to remove the virus yourself such as these. Once the virus is removed, it's worth going through a complete check of the computer to ensure there are no other viruses lurking there.

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