Virus threatens to take computers hostage, local university warns employees


Kendall Downing

UNION COUNTY, Ill. - A virus is making the rounds online and threatens to take your computer and all of its contents hostage. The virus is named Cryptolocker. Once activated, it encrypts a computer's files and holds them.

The virus frequently comes as an e-mail attachment. When you open it, the computer will display a countdown clock and demand payment to a third party to get the files back.

Network security is a priority at the Union County Courthouse in Anna, Illinois.

"I've reviewed with the staff that you want to be careful about opening attachments," said Rollie Hawk, Chief Information Office for Union County.

Hawk said it's because they're handling sensitive information. He's already told courthouse employees about the Cryptolocker virus and the danger it brings.

"It's a major change in the way these viruses work," he said.

Hawk said ransom viruses are nothing new, but the Cryptolocker can infect backup drives in addition to the hard drive.

The threat is so great that SIU-Carbondale recently put out a memo warning its employees not to open any unknown attachments. A spokesperson confirmed they've had a handful of infections.

The email attachment can come in a variety of forms, like a .pdf file or even a picture.

"Now people are so used to having their stuff out there on a computer that now without even thinking about the danger they are more susceptible to it," said Hawk.

Hawk said if you get the virus, don't buy into the scam or send any money. Instead, shut your computer off immediately and get it to a technician who can help.

SIU-Carbondale is advising all of its employees to verify the authenticity of any email attachments. They report the virus can appear frequently as a message from FedEx or UPS.