Officials warn of ‘ransomware' computer viruses
by Brian Day
Authorities locally and nationwide are cautioning Internet users of a new trend in computer viruses known as “ransomware,” which take control of victims' computers and demand a ransom to restore the users' data.
They have different names, such as Reveton or Crypto Locker, and they attempt to extort money from victims by encrypting or blocking access to their data without their knowledge, then demanding a ransom in order to undo the damage, according to police and FBI officials.
Most recently, Glendora police issued a warning Friday after a businessman in the city fell victim to the virus and lost all of his computer data as a result.
“A local businessman received an email from what he thought was his bank, addressed to his business, only to find that after he clicked on the zip file attachment, a malware virus encrypted his files, rendering them useless,” Glendora police said in a written statement.
“Two windows then popped up, one with the word ‘Crypto Locker' in the title, requesting that he pay $300 via a pre-paid money card and once done, he would receive a ‘key' to unlock his files,” according to the police statement. “The message continued to tell him that he only had a certain amount of time to pay the money, and if he did not send the money, his files would then become useless and he would not be able to retrieve his photos, files and other documents.”
The victim took the computer to an expert, who informed him the data were permanently lost.
“The Glendora Police Department investigated the origin of the email and found that the account asking for the ransom came from overseas, and there is no guarantee that the key will be sent even if the money was paid,” the statement said.
Officials asked members of the public to share information regarding ransomware viruses with friends and family to help prevent them from becoming victims.
“These types of sophisticated crimes are becoming more prevalent, and it is my hope that by informing the public, we can reduce the chances of our community members falling victim to these types of cybercrimes being perpetrated from across the world,” Glendora Police Chief Rob Castro said.
In August, the FBI issued a similar warning regarding a ransomware virus known as “Reveton,” which scams victims by purporting to be an official message from the FBI.
Reveton is known as a piece of “drive-by” malware because “unlike many other viruses, which activate when users open a file or document, this one can install itself when users simply click on a compromised website,” FBI officials warned in a statement.
Once a computer is infected, it immediately locks and displays a message stating there has been a violation of federal law, according to the FBI.
“The bogus message goes on to say the user's Internet address was identified by the FBI or the Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section as having been associated with child pornography sites or other illegal activity,” the statement continued, “To unlock their machines, users are required to pay a fine using a prepaid money card service.”
The Reveton virus first came to the attention of federal investigators in 2011.
“We're getting inundated with complaints,” FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center member Donna Gregory said in August. “We are getting dozens of complaints every day. Unlike other viruses, Reveton freezes your computer and stops it in its tracks. The average user will not be able to easily remove the malware.”
California typically is among the top states in terms of complaints from computer users, according to Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI's Los Angeles Division. One of the reasons for that is population, she added.
Eimiller said there are a number of online scams that purport to be from the FBI.
“Obviously with one goal,” she said. “To get money or infect your computer.”
But she said the FBI doesn't fine people online nor does it send solicitations online. The only fines in FBI cases are imposed by a judge, Eimiller pointed out.
“Computer users should follow the basic rule of not responding to online solicitations,” Eimiller said.
If you don't recognize the email, she said don't open it. If you are sent a link, she said don't click on it.
Reports of ransomware have increased in the past year, according to Marian Merritt, an internet safety advocate for Symantec, producers of the Norton security software. The corporation's studies found that while the number of victims subject to cybercrimes has dropped, the loss per victim has increased by 50??percent, she said. Cybercrimes accounted for $113??billion in losses worldwide, $38??billion of which came from the United States, according to Symantec's 2013 Norton Report.
“(Cyber criminals) are asking for more money, and they're more effective,” she said.
Ransomware tends to target specific groups of people by appearing as a trusted source, such as a club or organization a person might associate with, she said. Cyber criminals may even hack legitimate websites to trick users in to downloading the virus.
“We want people to be very careful about who you email and what sites you visit, if you stick to known and trusted sites with good security, they tend to be well protected,” she said.
The company's studies also found some smart phones may become infected with ransomware, she said. Consumers should consider using more advanced security software rather than just anti-virus, on both computers and smart phones, she said.
Merritt said anyone who experiences ransomware should contact the authorities and use a professional to remove the software. A person should never attempt to pay the ransom, she said.
“Once you've given your credit card to cyber criminals, the problems are going to continue,” she said. A criminal may sell the credit card number online or use it fraudulently themselves, she said.
The criminals tend to try to use shame against the consumer by alleging the computer was locked because of child pornography or another illegal online act.
“This is such a huge fraud problem and they shouldn't associate shame with it, they should get help and they should report it,” she said.
Coffee with Cops helps community, police start conversation
by DEVIN LORING
With uniforms donned, badges in place, and equipment in tow, the Community Oriented Policing Unit, a division of the Ocean City Police Department, gathered Oct. 2 in Sunrise Cafe in Ocean City.
In a scenario that may sound intimidating to some, the police were not there as an imposing force, but as one that would "break down the barrier" between the police and the community, Patrolman Michael Gray said.
Capt. Steven Ang said he started COPU or the "bike cops" program about 20 years ago as a way for officers to be a more visible presence in the community.
"People are intimidated to approach a police officer," Ang said. "With (bike cops) it becomes a simple, 'Hey, excuse me.'"
Gray, who took over event planning for the COPU two years ago, said the events used to be staged outside places like Wawa, but in order to gain a more personalized experience with community members, they started having Coffee with Cops in cafes so people could relax with a cup of coffee and a pastry and address concerns with the officers.
"What a police officer or a city administrator perceives is not necessarily what the people perceive," Ang said about potential issues community members might have.
Some of the issues that Gray and Ang said are addressed at Coffee with Cops are parking issues, neighborhood disputes, faded signs or safety issues. Many times the officers get questions that don't directly involve the police department, like trash issues or a pothole problem, but the officers are able to direct people to the correct resources.
Capt. John Prettyman said that last year, the Coffee with Cops program helped influence a couple to buy a home in Ocean City.
"We could answer all of their questions in one shot, and they became more comfortable (about the area)," Prettyman said.
Don Smedley, an Ocean City resident, attended Coffee with Cops for the first time on Wednesday morning. He came with a simple question about dogs on the Boardwalk, which the officers answered.
"I've found the police have been very open," Smedley said. "They very much want to engage with the community."
Questions like Smedley's are typical of what residents ask at Coffee with Cops, Ang said. They are questions that don't warrant a call to 911, but are daily concerns for residents.
Ocean City resident Bob Idell said that last spring he remembers a woman who came with a similar question about dogs who aren't leashed.
"She was concerned because the dogs would roam off their leashes even if they were with the owner. She was wanting to know how she could fee safe," he said.
Idell takes advantage of Coffee with Cops when he has a question - this time about handicap parking placards - but he also helps the police department by giving them a space to meet. Idell and his wife, Sharon, own the Sunrise Cafe.
Oct. 2 was the second time that the cafe hosted the program. The first time was in April, just after the cafe opened in March. The police said that the program yielded its best turnout ever last spring.
The COPU puts on a number of community outreach programs in addition to Coffee with Cops, sponsoring National Night Out, citizen and civic meetings, the Cop Chase 5K Fun Run and a youth summer camp.
"We want to break down barriers," Ang said. "You have to work together to try to work out problems."
Public safety agencies in Brown County expected on new radio system by Oct. 15
by Nathan Phelps
A new public safety communications system is expected to finish rolling out to police and fire departments in Brown County next week before moving on to include other county services.
The transition is part of a federal mandate to use the radio spectrum more efficiently. The change is expected improve communications between officers and the dispatchers.
Law enforcement and fire departments in Brown County are expected to be on the new system by Oct. 15.
“At that point we'll have all of the emergency services on the new system and then we'll start bringing up some of the non-emergency users like the parks and highway departments,” said Cullen Peltier, Brown County director of public safety communications. “We're seeing a major benefit in the quality and clarity of the communications.”
The system also provides better communications within the department, he said.
A number of agencies — the Brown County Sheriff's Department and Green Bay fire and police departments, for example — moved to the new system through the summer.
“So far it's working really well,” said Ed Jarosz, a battalion chief with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department. “There were a number of areas that were not covered with the old system that are now covered. Lambeau Field was a big issue. There were several areas where we couldn't talk to each-other.”
The system was supposed to be in place by Jan. 1, but the county received an extension after encountering problems reaching agreement on prices for all of the sites on which radio towers were to be built.
Outagamie County is transitioning to a similar system starting early next month.
The final cost of roughly $13 million to Brown County pays for new towers and tower sites, and county radio equipment. But individual departments had to buy portable radios, in-car computers and other devices.
The Green Bay Metro Fire Department has been upgrading its radio system over the past five years. The upgrades and transition to the new system cost the Green Bay Metro Fire Department's budget about $125,000, with port security and federal grants supporting roughly $548,000 in improvements since 2008, according to the department.
“Our communications are more reliable,” Jarosz said.
Getting Brown County agencies on the system by next week is another step in the process. Departments will then focus installing equipment in vehicles and getting non-emergency users on the system.
Decommissioning of the existing radio equipment is expected to push well into next year, Peltier said.