With New Tools, Even Nonexperts Can Lock Up Data

In FCC and Internet On

On Saturday, investigators could not yet tell who was behind the attack as security experts around the world raced to contain it. Across Asia, several universities and organizations said they had been affected. Renault, the European automaker, said on Saturday that its French operations had been hit, while one of its plants in Slovakia was shut down because of the digital outbreak.

Computer users in the United States so far were less affected after a 22-year-old British cybersecurity researcher inadvertently stopped the ransomware attack from spreading more widely.

Ransomware is nothing new. For years, there have been stories of individuals or companies horrified that they have been locked out of their computers and that the only way back in is to pay a ransom to someone, somewhere who has managed to take control.

But computer criminals are discovering that ransomware is the most effective way to make money in the shortest amount of time. The advent of new tools that wrap victims’ data with tough encryption technology, hard-to-trace digital currency like Bitcoin, and even online sites that offer to do the data ransoming in return for a piece of the action, have made this method of cybertheft much easier.

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