Ransomware - computer malware that locks or steals your files until you pay a ransom - has reached epidemic levels, infecting businesses, people, and even hospitals. Over the last few months, some of the criminals operating ransomware schemes have become even more sinister - in many casesnot restoring victims' access to their files even if ransoms are paid. Furthermore, some crooks have instituted a new policy that really "goes low" - they offer to restore your files for free if you infect at least two more people with the ransomware.
One variant of such ransomware - known as "Popcorn Time" - attacks computers running various versions of Windows, and, after infecting them and encrypting files, offers victims' two choices:
Pay a ransom within a week (The ransom is usually 1 Bitcoin = approximately $2800)
Pay nothing, but infect two other people's computers by sending them a malicious link that when clicked will install the ransomware. (The link includes a unique identifier so the crooks can track who gets to have his or her files decrypted for free.)
Of course, intentionally attempting to infect someone else's computer is both illegal and immoral, but criminals seem to believe that people will do so in order not to pay ransoms. And, of course, by requiring people to infect two people's computers in order to get the decryption key that they need to regain their files, the crooks hope to double their reach and revenue.
What should you do?
By far, the best way to combat ransomware is to be proactive - protect yourself from getting infected in the first place. Practice good cyber hygiene, and backup your data often - keeping the backups disconnected physically and logically from the primary sources: if you somehow do get infected by ransomware, you do not want it to encrypt the backups as well.
As for the moral dilemma created by criminals with the new "free if you attack others" scheme - time will tell how successful such an option is for the crooks involved. Let us hope that it fails to deliver the crooks' desired outcome.