A nasty new version of “ransomware” has been making the rounds on the Internet, putting millions of personal and corporate files at risk. Instead of stealthily copying data and sending it somewhere else, this type of Trojan virus encrypts the data in an unbreakable algorithm, then demands payment for the key to unlock it.

“This kind of malware is not new but over the past 18 months it has become significantly more prevalent and the malware authors have written significantly more clever and scary versions,” writes James Lyne, global head of security research for Sophos. Even after security tools clean out the virus, the files remain encrypted. The latest variation of the threat, called CryptoLocker, includes a countdown timer which demands a payment of $300 within 72 hours or else the key file will be deleted.

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