Enlarge / A typical message displayed on a computer infected by ransomware.

Malware that disables computers and demands that hefty cash payments be paid to purported law-enforcement agencies before the machines are restored is extorting as much as $5 million from end-user victims, researchers said.

The estimate, contained in a report published on Thursday by researchers from antivirus provider Symantec, is being fueled by the mushrooming growth of so-called ransomware. Once infected, computers become unusable and often display logos of local law-enforcement agencies, along with warnings that the user has violated statutes involving child pornography or other serious offenses. The warnings then offer to unlock the computers if users pay a fine as high as $200 within 72 hours.

“A lot of individuals do pay up, either because they believe the messages or because they realize it is a scam but still want to restore access to their computer,” Symantec’s 16-page report explained. “Unfortunately, even if a person does pay up, the fraudsters often do not restore functionality. The only reliable way to restore functionality is to remove the malware.”

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via Ars Technica » Technology Lab http://feeds.arstechnica.com/~r/arstechnica/technology-lab/~3/s9Y5i1iSx2c/

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