[UPDATE: August 10, 2014]

Some good news for those affected by CryptoLocker!

FireEye and Fox-It (two companies that provide corporate security solutions) have created a support web site called DeCryptCryptolocker (www.decryptcryptolocker.com).

Those who are infected with CryptoLocker can go to the DeCryptCryptolocker site, which allows you to enter your email address and then upload to them one of your infected files. You are then sent an email message that includes the code necessary to decrypt the file, and a link to special recovery software that helps you decrypt all the infected files.

Continue on to read all about CryptoLocker (and other ransomware) in the original article…

I hear about new viruses almost every day, most of which your anti-virus program protects you from. But this particular virus (or malware) is a bit different, which is why I want to devote some time to it here.


What is “malware”?

Firsts of all, let me explain the terminology I just used.  “Malware” comes from the words “MALiscious softWARE” and is really just a generic term that encompasses any intrusive computer program or script that disrupts the operation of your computer.

Examples of malware include computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, keyloggers, ransomware, spyware, adware, and malicious browser-helper-objects (BHO’s), just to name a few.

Does that make sense?So when talking about a computer virus, for example, I can call it a virus, or I can call it malware.  The bottom line is, it’s a bad thing for your computer.

I guess the thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t really matter if you completely understand the differences between all these types of malware, just know that it’s not a good thing to be infected by them, which is why you always need to take certain steps (see the end of this article) to protect yourself when you are connected to the Internet.

CryptoLock graphic

What is CryptoLocker?

Now, back to the topic at hand.  CryptoLocker (which is sometimes spelled as two words “Crypto Locker”) is a malware program that’s been making the rounds the past month, and is an example of a type of malware called “ransomware“.

Ransomware is not a new thing, but this particular instance has been more widespread and damaging that most.

Here’s how CryptoLocker (and most ransomware) works.

Note that I got a lot of this information from a well known security company called Sophos (www.sophos.com) that had some great articles on CryptoLocker.  I have links to them at the end of this discussion.

  • You get what seems to be a legitimate email with an attachment from some company like UPS or FedEx sending you a tracking notification, but instead it’s phishing email (i.e. it looks like it’s legitimate but it’s bogus).
  • You open the email and then click an attachment to open it, and you’re instantly infected with CyrptoLocker.
  • The malware installs itself into your Documents folder and sets itself up to automatically start every time you start-up Windows by putting itself into the Windows registry.
  • It then uses your internet connection and attempts to connect to one of dozens of servers on the Internet that have been specifically setup by the bad guys.
  • Once it connects to a server, CryptoLocker uploads to that server a public-encryption key. Using that key, the server generates a private-public key pair, and sends the public key to your computer, keeping the private key.
  •  CryptoLocker then scans your hard drive and any other attached storage device (such as a portable hard drive or flash drive) for certain types of files, including documents and pictures.Here is a screenshot from Sophos that shows the file types CryptoLocker goes after…

Cropto Locker File Types

  • Each file it finds is encrypted using the public key. This means you can no longer open the file (it’s incrypted) unless you have the private key (which you don’t).
  • CryptoLocker then displays a ransom page telling you that you have 72 hours to pay (usually $300) for the private key which will let you unencrypt your files.Here is another screenshot from Sophos showing you what the ransom page looks like…


CryptoLocker Ransom Page


  • If you do NOT pay, the private key is destroyed by the server that it’s on, and you have no way to unencrypt and use your files.
  • If you DO pay, it’s been reported that the bad guys DO actually provide you with the private key so you can get your files back.


Sounds like something out of a movie, doesn’t it?  The truth is, that it’s almost impossible to unencrypt your files, and many people have been known to pay the ransom to get back their precious files.

Sophos put together a nice YouTube video that shows  you CryptoLocker in action.  It’s really kind of fascinating to watch…

Click the video below to play…

The two buttons at the lower right
let you go FULL SCREEN or CHANGE QUALITYEVS-FullScreen-Quality-Buttons


 So how do you protect yourself?

Staying Safe on the InternetI’ve written a lot of other articles about staying safe on the Internet…. and in fact, have a book called Staying Safe on the Internet that you can CLICK HERE to read more about.

  1. Make sure your Anti-virus program is up to date and that the virus definitions are getting updated.
  2. Make sure your Windows updates are happening, since they often contain security fixes.
  3. Make sure common programs you use on the Internet (Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Java) are updated. And frankly, as I’ve mentioned in other articles, just completely uninstall Java if you aren’t using it.
  4. Avoid opening any email attachment you weren’t expecting.
  5. Don’t fall for any phishing emails (i.e. emails that look like they are from legitimate companies asking you to open an attachment)
  6. Make regular backups that you store away from your computer.


GooberHere are some links to more information…

I’ve written a lot of articles about staying safe on the Internet. If you’d like to see them, here’s a link to the “master list”:


Sophos has two good articles that give you more details about CryptoLocker:

As always, I’d love to hear about your own personal experiences with Internet safety and if you know of anyone who’s had an encounter with CryptoLocker

Please Stay Safe!!!

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