Fake-police ransomware reaches Australia

Victims accused of child pornography, hit for "fines" to retrieve data and avoid prosecution.

Ransomware pop-up claims victims have broken the law and their computer has been locked. Screenshot courtesy AVG Australia New Zealand.

The wave of ransomware masquerading as law enforcement operations has reached Australia. Instances of an Australian Federal Police (AFP) branded scam have been reported attacking PCs this week. A more serious scam has been attacking business servers.

The PC version displays a message purporting to be from the AFP, claiming that the victim has violated one of a number of laws ranging from copyright infringement to distributing child pornography -- although the laws cited bear no relationship to real Australian laws.

Files on the victim's computer are encrypted, and can only be unlocked by paying the criminals a $100 "fine" for an unlock code.

CSO Online has reported similar ransomware scams in recent weeks targeting Britain and Ireland. The FBI has also warned against ransomware scams in the US.

A key difference in the Australian version is that it claims the victims could be facing jail terms of up to nine years or fines of up to $250,000, presumably in an attempt to further encourage payment by making the $100 seem a cheap option. The Irish and British versions only mention potential fines of €100 or £100.

Like the European scams, however, the ransomware seen in Australian uses the Ukash payment system to process the ransom money.

"From the perspective of our local support team, [ransomware] cases have been quite rare and sporadic until last week where we now have ten confirmed cases," AVG Australia New Zealand security advisor Michael McKinnon told CSO Online.

"Infected platforms observed have been Windows XP and Windows 7."

A more serious ransomware scam has also started targeting Australian businesses -- encrypting all data on a server and any attached storage or backup systems, and demanding a $3000 ransom.

The malware claims to be “Anti-Child Porn Spam Protection” and threatens to report the victim to the police if they don't cooperate.

Detective Superintendent Brian Hay of the Queensland Police Service's fraud and online crime squad told ABC Radio that two victims in that state were asked to pay the ransom via Western Union to an entity in China.

While there was no connection between the two businesses, both were running Microsoft Small Business Server 2003.

"They weren't well-maintained, there were patches missing, and we know that the crooks actually have developed web crawlers, bits of software... that scour the internet for sites that actually have outdated equipment on then," Hay said.

It isn't known whether any data was stolen, but Hay says that every business should prepare for the worst.

"Any small business now should consider encrypting their client data as a matter of course," he said.

Police generally advise victims not to pay the ransom, since there's no guarantee that the unlock code will ever be delivered. But according to the <i>NT News</i>, one victim of the server ransomware, a refrigeration business in Alice Springs, did pay and did receive the decryption key.

"Whether the fact that two different ransomware attacks have appeared [in Australia] within the same week is coincidence or not is anyone's guess at this point in time," McKinnon said.

Contact Stilgherrian at Stil@stilgherrian.com or follow him on Twitter at @stilgherrian

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