Editorial Policy

Blackmail Virus Wants Your Credit Card Number

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
May 7, 2010

While most people fear computer viruses for their malicious attacks on victims’ computer systems, increasingly, many viruses are in it not so much for the mayhem, but for the money.

Most recently, a new malware virus called Kenzero has been reported to literally blackmail people into giving out their credit card information to pay a fee in order to avoid ‘compromising’ information, which the virus has collected from their surfing habits, becoming publicly shared on websites.

Here is how it works: First, the virus installs itself on victims’ computers via a file sharing service known as Winni, which is used by up to 200 million people across the world. So far most prevalent in Japan, the virus targets victims, who download pornographic animes (Japanese-style animations). The virus takes screen pictures of the user’s web history and publishes it online in their name. It next sends an e-mail or contacts the victim via a pop-up screen, demanding a credit card payment of 1500 yen ($15) to remove the compromising information from the web. So far more than 5,500 people in Japan have admitted being affected by the Kenzero blackmail virus.

Kenzero is a variation of malware known as ransonware, which “kidnaps” victims’ documents and files by encrypting them, and then demands a credit card payment from users to “release” the files. According to BBC News, a similar type of ransomware has been targeting users in Europe. In this case, the virus searches victims computer for illegal content, and sends victims threatening pop-ups and emails accusing them of copyright violation (regardless of whether or not illegal content was actually found on the computer.) The emails are sent from a fictitious organization, which offers to accept a “pretrial settlement” fine of $400 payable by credit card, if victims want to avoid costly court cases and possible jail time. Victims who shell out the money soon discover that the outfit doesn’t make the $400 charge, but rather sells the credit card information on the black market.

The Kenzero virus and other types of ransomware are unique in that this type of malware often pretends to be a law enforcer. Many consumers are afraid of hackers stealing their credit card information, but Kenzero and other similar ransomware blackmails people into giving it out themselves. And unfortunately, while users are covered against fraudulent credit card charges, if their credit card has been stolen or their credit card information otherwise compromised, people who voluntarily give out their credit card number to online fraudsters might find it difficult to convince card issuers to pick up the tab.

For people infected by ransomware, which is the way to protect yourself and avoid falling victim to credit card fraud? If you are getting threatening emails or pop-ups demanding credit card payments, simply ignore them. Next, immediately update your virus protection and get a reliable, up-to-date anti-malware scanner to find and remove the malware. For more information about how to keep your computer safe from ransomware and other virus attacks, check out these Cyber Security Tips from US-Cert, the Unites States Computer Emergency Readiness Team.