Sometimes it’s good to look back in order to see where we’ve come from – and to figure out where we’re heading to in the future. Cybercrime is a case in point, although no crystal ball is required to see its continued inexorable rise a couple of years hence. Further than that, who knows where it’s all likely to go or where it’ll eventually end.

Computer viruses, for example, are not a new phenomenon. They are as old as pre-internet computer networks such as ARPANET, an acronym for Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.  The network was initially funded by the ARPA agency within the US Defense Department for use by its projects at universities and research laboratories in the US.

According to the WaveFront Consulting Group (WCG), Robert T. Morris, Jr., a graduate student at Cornell University and son of a chief scientist at the NSA, launched a self-replicating worm, the Morris Worm, on the ARPANET network in 1988. The worm spread to over 6,000 networked computers, clogging government and university systems. Morris was dismissed from Cornell, sentenced to three years probation and fined $10,000.

The following year, says WCG, the first large-scale computer extortion case emerged. Under the pretence of a quiz on the AIDS virus, users unwittingly downloaded a program that threatened to destroy all their computer data unless they paid $500 into a foreign account.

Nowadays, the threats are usually much more sophisticated, with internet shoppers in New York or users of online personal banking in Oman equally at risk. Nowadays, it really doesn’t matter where you live or work in the world. Cybercrime is no respecter of international boundaries.

An indication of how advanced viruses have become – and how careful we all have to be – is illustrated by the appearance of the “drive-by” Reveton ransomware virus, which is designed to extort money from its victims. Perhaps it’s also a glimpse into the future.

The Reveton virus, used by hackers in conjunction with Citadel malware – a software delivery platform that can disseminate various kinds of computer viruses – first came to the attention of the FBI in 2011. The FBI says the Reveton virus is described as drive-by malware because, unlike many viruses that activate when users open a file or attachment, this one can install itself when users simply click on a compromised website. Once infected, the victim’s computer immediately locks, and the monitor displays a screen stating there has been a violation of federal law.

The bogus message goes on to say that the FBI or the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section has identified the user’s internet address as having been associated with child pornography sites or other illegal online activity. To unlock their machines, users are required to pay a “fine” using a prepaid money card service.

Some people have actually paid the so-called fine, says Donna Gregory of the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The IC3, which was established in 2000, gives victims an easy way to report cybercrime and provides law enforcement and regulatory agencies with a central referral system for complaints.

The IC3 issued a warning on its website in May 2012. Since that time, the virus has become more widespread in the United States and internationally. Some variants of Reveton can even turn on computer webcams and display the victim’s picture on the frozen screen.

The IC3 suggests the following if you become a victim of the Reveton virus:

  • Do not pay any money or provide any personal information.
  • Contact a computer professional to remove Reveton and Citadel, which often accompanies it, from your computer.
  • Be aware that even if you are able to unfreeze your computer on your own, the malware may still operate in the background. Certain types of malware have been known to capture personal information such as user names, passwords and credit card numbers through embedded keystroke-logging programs.
  • File a complaint and look for updates about the Reveton virus on the IC3 website.

You can find the IC3 website here. Learn more about the Reveton virus on the FBI’s website here. Further information on the services offered by WCG is available here.

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