The latest tool in the hackers’ toolbox is a piece of malicious software so diabolical… wait, that’s being a bit melodramatic. It is, however, a work of nasty genius that pits its victims against each other, testing the very limits of honorable behavior.
Called Popcorn Time ransomware, this nasty bug infects your computer and offers you two choices: pay the ransom in Bitcoin, or infect two of your friends’ computers. Once your two friends pay up, you’ll receive the unlock key and regain access to your files. Presumably, should your friends opt to infect others, you would have to wait until their victims either pay up or infect in order to free up your computer in what basically amounts to Satan’s own pyramid scheme.
At this time, researchers who’ve uncovered the ransomware think it’s still a work in progress, meaning the crowd-infection manifestation was the truly innovative part. It’s still not clear how this one will fare when it takes people being willing to push the button and target someone they know, while other ransomware can spread to potentially hundreds of thousands of people with just a day’s work sending out mass emails to random addresses. There’s also not much known about how it spreads when your college roommate isn’t part of the equation; unlike typical malware that’s sent out as infected attachments or links in emails, downloaded through click-bait videos, and more.
For now, the best defense against ransomware and other viruses is to back up your files and data routinely, giving you a fresh jumping off point should you become infected. Following the age-old advice about avoiding links and attachments – even if it’s from someone you recognize – is important, as is keeping your antivirus software up-to-date. If you have reason to think you’re infected, power down immediately, including devices that work off WiFi and Bluetooth like your printer or virtual assistant, in order to minimize the spread.