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An Aussie business was hit with a $3,000 ransom for its financial records

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A Northern Territory business has been forced to pay a $3,000 ransom to hackers who encrypted its financial records. The business last week found it was locked out of accessing vital credit and debitor invoice information stored on its network. Hours after discovering the data, TDC Refrigeration and Electrical received an email demanding cash for the password. “They had demanded the ransom within seven days, or it would go up another $1000, and again for every week the payment is late,” IT manager Matt Cooper said. “I guess this is their way of making sure victims don’t try to crack the encryption.” The money was paid by the request of the hackers through Western Union and Liberty Reserve, a favourite method of money transfer in underground circles.

The US Justice department estimates that victims of crypto ransom pay out over $100,000,000 per year in the US alone. The Register in the UK estimates that in India, losses exceed £2,500,000,000.

How did they do it?

The spammers sent an official looking email, possibly with the FBI logo, saying that illegal activity had been detected on their machine, and demanded that they perform some action. That action resulted in their data being encrypted so that they couldn't get access to their data. Within a short time, they received another email demanding $3,000. “They had demanded the ransom within seven days, or it would go up another $1000, and again for every week the payment is late,” Cooper said. “I guess this is their way of making sure victims don’t try to crack the encryption." The money was paid by the request of the hackers through Western Union and Liberty Reserve, a favourite method of money transfer in underground circles.[CRN]

How would Czar Mail have stopped it?

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The malware was delivered in an email which installed onto TDC's computer and encrypted the files. Spammers use carefully crafted emails that appear to be legitimate. Often the emails are so authentic looking, it takes a trained eye to spot the fake, and normal office personnel won't know what to look for, or how to look.

Czar Mail members have to present ID before they can get a mailbox, and criminals won't do that because their identity would be known. When spammers send spoofed emails to Czar Mail's open port, they are immediately rejected: they're never delivered to the recipient's inbox. Legitimate Czar Mail members log onto Czar Mail's secure port with a password (which is done automatically by their email client software), so their identity is verified. Spammers can't spoof Czar Mail members because they don't know the forged sender's password.

This is important: If TDC had been a Czar Mail member, the email would have been rejected at the email server, and no one would ever have clicked on the attachment which installed the malware.