Computer Ransom Crime on the Rise

Imagine turning on your computer and not being able to access any files or photos. Then, a pop-up message that demands ransom to get the data back. That's what happened to one Arlington woman.

"I feel like it just makes me mad," said Sara Molina, looking at her computer. "What do they want?"

The simple answer: money. The hacker demanded $500 paid in Bitcoin for access to Molina's data. She didn't pay the ransom. Now she can't access anything she saved on her Dell.

"It's things that are of no value to them," Molina said, wiping away tears. "I feel like they're making me put a dollar on how much that stuff is worth."

"So they knew enough about her to ask $500 from her," said Bhavani Thuraisingham, director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas. "It's creepy."

Thuraisingham said computer ransom, rare a decade years ago, is more common now. She likened it to a home burglar.

"But this is even more dangerous," Thuraisingham warned. "Because you can attack a person's machine from anywhere."

The FBI website warns computer ransom is on the rise. Hackers get in through vulnerabilities in a computer, or by a user clicking an unknown link that plants the malware.

"It's a malicious way of doing things," said Thuraisingham. "They really want to cause as much havoc as possible."

That's what it did to Molina.

"It just makes me nervous even using computers," she said. "There's no telling what's out there that could harm us."

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