15 Nov 2013

Third of UK could be hit with spam wave, police warn

Don’t open that email attachment! The UK’s National Crime Agency has given out an urgent national alert about a wave of spam emails due to hit the UK on Friday.

Tens of millions of British internet users could come under attack from spam emails today, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned.

The emails, that appear to be from banks or other financial institutions contain attached files that contain malware called Cryptolocker.

Users who open the attachments – which pose as innocent seeming files such as invoices – will find their computers locked up and held hostage from them.

Cryptolocker – a type of malware known as ransomware – then flashes up a screen asking for two bitcoins (£536) as a ransom in return for the content being de-crypted and returned to the user.

The NCA is advising users not to open the email in the first place. The agency also says that small and medium businesses are likely to be the main targets of the attack.

The NCA has said that “tens of millions” in the UK will be hit by the spam, which means that at least a third of the UK could be affected. The recently-founded agency has put out warnings before, but this appears to be the first urgent alert they have published.

Advice: this is a case where prevention is better than cure.

  • The public should be aware not to click on any such attachment.
  • Antivirus software should be updated, as should operating systems.
  • User created files should be backed up routinely and preserved off the network.
  • Where a computer becomes infected it should be disconnected from the network, and professional assistance should be sought to clean the computer.
  • Various antivirus companies offer remedial software solutions (though they will not restore encrypted files).

The NCA went live in October this year and its 4000 officers are responsible for co-ordinating a national response to serious and organised crime including cyber threats.