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There’s a messed up new computer virus that’s going global, this is how you stop it

Computers and social media have really changed the meaning of the word ‘friendship’.

We all have the occasional random bumping around the periphery of our digital lives. Maybe it’s a friend of a friend you met at a party. Maybe it’s someone you went to high school with. Be honest, maybe you just added some folks because they are cute (not judging).

Well now your digital friendships will be put to the test.

As reported by Bleeping Computer, security researchers Malware Hunter Team have come across a new type of ransomware called ‘Popcorn Time’, which is looking to capitalise on the popularity of a streaming site with the same name.

If you need a refresher, ransomware is a kind of malicious software (malware) that attackers use to infect a victim’s computer. It is usually transmitted via a Trojan, which is essentially a virus disguised as a legitimate file. Once installed, the ransomware will encrypt the victim’s files and then request some kind of payment to decrypt them.

Payment is almost always monetary, and usually relies on the use of Bitcoin, since it is untraceable. However, Popcorn Time has taken things a little further, offering victims another way to be unlock their files.

In what sounds more like a psychological experiment, Popcorn Time victims can gain access to the decryption key by either paying one bitcoin (778 US dollars – damn it I really should have invested when I had the chance), or nominating two other people to receive the ransomware.

Holy shizzola, that’s manipulative!

Malware Hunter Team first identified the ransomware on December 7 and for now, classifies it as still “in development”. At this point we don’t know how many, if any, computers have been infected and in which regions the ransomware is spreading.

In another twist, the makers of the ransomware claim to be doing it for honourable reasons. In a section named “Why we do that?, the hackers write in semi-broken English about the tough times they face in Syria, how they have lost family members, and how they are “sorry”, but all the money will be used for “food, medicine and shelter to those in need”.

No one knows if this true, but I like to think there are some hackers with hearts of gold out there.

Ransomware is apparently on the rise. According to computer security firm Kaspersky, 2015 saw more than 58 percent of corporate PCs attacked with malware, with ransomware attacks doubling. This trend continued in 2016, with ransomware attacks doubling again in just three quarters.

So be very careful if a so-called “friend” sends you a link to anything resembling Popcorn Time.

Also, perhaps start making a shortlist of people you potentially wouldn’t mind passing Popcorn Time on to.

After all, what are friends for?

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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