First victim of online blackmail

Helen Barrow, a nurse based in Manchester is believed to be the first UK victim of online blackmail after her computer files were encrypted by cybercriminals.

Jun 15, 2006
By David Howell
Chief Constable Andy Marsh

Helen Barrow, a nurse based in Manchester is believed to be the first UK victim of online blackmail after her computer files were encrypted by cybercriminals.

The criminals placed her files in a special folder on her computer and then used a 30-digit long password to protect it. A ransom note was then sent instructing her not to contact the police. Barrow was told that she would receive the password to unlock the folder once she bought drugs from an online pharmacy.

Barrow contacted the police who were able to unlock the protected folder. Barrow told the BBC: “When I realised what had happened, I just felt sick to the core. I was in shock. It was a horrible feeling and I thought I was going to lose all of my work.”

The folder was encrypted with the Arhiveus trojan that was identified and disabled by experts at digital security experts Sophos. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos said: “The Arhiveus password is deliberately long and complicated in an attempt by the hackers to avoid people easily cracking it. But now the password has been uncovered, there should be no reason for anyone hit by this ransomware attack to have to make any payments to the criminals behind it.

“Hackers are getting bolder in their attempts to steal money from innocent web users. Once your valuable data is locked away you may be tempted to pay up to rescue your files, but this will only encourage more blackmail attempts in the future. Companies who have made regular backups may be able to recover easily, but less diligent home users could be panicked into coughing up the cash.”

Greater Manchester Police have stated that there is no on-going investigation into this event at the present time, as due to the international nature of the crime it would be almost impossible to trace the person or gang behind the blackmail threat.

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