New Computer Virus Attacks Minnesota Businesses

Updated: 12/10/2013 10:49 AM By: Josh Rosenthal

A new virus that locks a computer's hard drive and then demands money is attacking businesses in Minnesota.

It even has computer technicians stumped, like Rod Rotzien of Rockford-based Techwarrior Technologies. "It's the equivalent of getting your child kidnapped, and they hold it ransom for money," he said.

The virus is called Cryptolocker, and it targets computers running Windows. It locks you out of data in your computer's hard drive and basically holds it hostage unless you pay a fee, typically hundreds of dollars.

"Children's pictures, family pictures, wedding pictures. That's the kind of files this targets," Rotzien explained.

Often people get the virus by clicking on a link disguised as an email from a legitimate business like UPS or FedEx.

As Rotzien put it, "people go 'oh, I have a package, it's Christmas,' and then boom. They open the attachment, they get hit." He's already seen Cryptolocker in more than a dozen Minnesota businesses, and he's not the only one.

"It's strong encryption," described James Keuning, who works for Minneapolis-based data security company Lucidata. "It's like the stuff your banks use to protect your financial information. The stuff your hospital uses to protect your medical records."

We even found a newspaper article about a Massachusetts police department getting the virus and being forced to put up the cash. That's because even the experts say if you get Cryptolocker, you could be out of luck if you don't pay up.

"I don't even think a guy, well a guy from MIT might be able to, but that's about it," Rotzien said.

Computer technicians say the best way to protect your computer is to back it up. That way if you lose everything, you've got another copy.

Also, antivirus software is always a good idea. Finally, if you're wondering how the hackers get paid, it's mostly through Bitcoins. They're a a virtual currency that's largely anonymous and almost untraceable.