Hackers hold seven years of family photos for ransom - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Hackers hold seven years of family photos for ransom

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SPRING HILL, FL (WFLA) -

Loretta Barbee has seven years' worth of photos trapped inside her computer, held for ransom by a computer hacker.

Barbee, a mom of two teenagers, has documented family vacations, weddings and family holidays. She had all of those memories saved on her computer and didn't back up any of them on other hard drives.

That was no problem until a hacker took over her computer and demanded ransom money. A friend was able to get rid of the virus, at first, but was unable to remove the encryption on her photos.

"It makes me sick," Barbee said.

Someone, somewhere, is holding her photos for ransom. Adding insult to injury, the computer virus is back, and Barbee can't even use her computer now.

At first, the the hackers sent a message demanding $500. Four days later, the ransom shot up to $1,000. If she doesn't pay soon, the hackers say the encryption code will be destroyed.

Barbee and her husband, Don, were baffled. They say they don't want to pay money to scammers and fear that even if they did, they couldn't trust that crooks would give them their photos back.

8 On Your Side took the Barbee's situation to Tom Perricone of Shield Watch, a company that removes computer viruses. He said the Barbee's computer is infected by something called CryptoLocker. There's little hope of getting the photos back, he said, without forking over cash.

"Typically, it's a 256-bit encryption, so it would take years to decrypt it, and you only typically have 30 to 60 days to get your files back, so it's just not possible," Perricone said.

Perricone says CryptoLocker is very sophisticated and runs like a business. The hackers are not interested in keeping your data, but they want cash. They're willing to destroy your data to make a point, Perriocone said. Interestingly, though, CryptoLocker usually releases your data, and even installs virus protection on your computer, if you pay the money, Perricone said.

Even so, the FBI recommends against paying the money because it encourages hackers to keep hacking into other computers.

Perricone's company has software for business clients that catches the CryptoLocker virus before it finishes its attacks. But once you get the ransom message, he said, it's to late.

"Really, the only way to prevent it is to not open attachments from people you don't know," he said.

Beyond that, Perricone recommends backing up all data on an external hard-drive. He also recommends you disconnect that hard drive from your computer to keep CryptoLocker from getting to your data there, too.

Barbee disparately wishes she had backed up her data. But she says she's still not giving up hope that someone will figure out how to get her photos back.

"There's a lot of smart computer people out there, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Perricone said.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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