Have you been hacked, or been the victim of malware or ransomware? Humans make the internet vibrant, but we’re also the weakest link — we’re predictable and often easily fooled. This episode of IRL focuses on our internet insecurity. Meet the unsung heroes fighting to keep us safe.
Stay safe online! Here’s more on how to not be a ransomware victim.
And, if you’d like to learn a bit more about the PATCH Act mentioned in our episode, go here.
Speaker 1: Hello, you need to make the bitcoin payment to unlock your files. Do you know how to purchase bitcoin?
Speaker 2: Hi. No, I do not. What happened to my files? How much do I have to pay?
Veronica: What you’re hearing is part of an online chat one of my guests actually had with a ransomware criminal.
Speaker 1: Your files are encrypted. Go and purchase 125 US dollars worth of bitcoin. Send them to the address below and we will send you the decryption password and go on the chat if you need and help you.
Veronica: Do you know what ransomware is? It’s when you turn on your computer and an image says something like, “Surprise! Your files are encrypted. Send us money.”
Speaker 2: This must be some kind of mistake.
Speaker 1: You downloaded a virus, so now you have to pay to get your files back. The ransom doubles after 24 hours.
Veronica: Well, when that happens, people freak out and they need help. And these crooks, they’re more than happy to get you sorted.
Speaker 1: Since you don’t understand what a ransom virus is, we will keep it at $125 for today.
Speaker 2: Well, that is kind of you, but it’s not right. Maybe you should get into some other business, something where you can feel good about what you do?
Speaker 1: Email us when you send the payment.
Speaker 9: Aw, didn’t that ransomware fella sound nice and helpful, if you forget about how he wants to rob and sabotage you. Have you been hacked yet or know someone who has? My friend Matt had his entire digital life stolen and destroyed in less than an hour. They changed all his passwords, took over his accounts, wiped his computers. All of his daughter’s photos were gone. He was devastated and angry with himself for being so easy to hack. Today, a look at our internet insecurity and the heroes fighting to keep us safe. I’m Veronica Belmont and this is IRL, an original podcast from Mozilla, because online life is real life. A few years ago, Alina Simone’s mom was a victim of ransomware. She popped open her computer and a note popped up on her screen.
Alina: Basically, it said, you know, “Hello, I am a ransom note and I’ve captured all of your files and they will be deleted if we don’t receive $500 in bitcoin within a week, we’re gonna delete them all and you can never get them back.” They allowed her to open one test file, you know what I mean?
Veronica: It’s like sending the finger … It’s like sending the finger in the mail.
Veronica: So this sent Alina off on a wild adventure. Suddenly she was racing, racing to find a way to buy bitcoin, racing to transfer it to the bad guys, all on the final day of the ransom deadline, down to the very last seconds on a holiday weekend.
Alina: Yeah, I think the word bitcoin is where my mom started weeping.
Veronica: If someone told me to give them $500 in bitcoin … I’m pretty tech savvy. I think I would still be like, “The what now? How do I do that?” Okay, but you did finally get the money to them, only it was after the deadline, so what happened then?
Alina: At first, they just doubled my mom’s ransom, and they said, “Now you owe us $1,000 if you want your data back.” It was also the week of Thanksgiving, and there was a major snowstorm in Massachusetts that week. She explained and just gave them the whole sob story and then an hour later or whatever it was, she had her data back. They just gave it all back.
Veronica: What a brutal week. Alina and her mom were left utterly shaken by the experience, as if the ransomers had actually broken into their homes and held them hostage. Just like in real life, ransomware victims experience feelings of fury, shame, embarrassment and self-loathing for something that happened to them online. I think for me, the weirdest part about this whole ransomware situation is that these hackers have stellar customer service. I mean, it’s like five-star Yelp reviews for hackers, and they’re incentivized to do that because they want you to have an easy time paying them money for the data that they’ve already stolen. So I really wanted to know what is that customer journey like? Well, security company F-Secure out in Helsinki wanted to find out, too, so their cybersecurity content editor, Melissa Michael, connected with various ransomware chat rooms to see who offered the most user-friendly, customer-focused help to her ransomware problem.
Speaker 1: Do you know how to purchase bitcoin?
Veronica: You heard some of what that was like at the start of the episode.
Melissa: My colleagues in our labs had been noticing that over the years, ransomware had become a lot more sophisticated. There’s things like FAQ pages and some of these families support several languages. There is customer support forms that you can go in and contact the criminals that way and get a response.
Veronica: So you said families just now, do you mean like crime families? Is that how you refer to them?
Melissa: Well, ransomware family is like, say, CryptoLocker or Jigsaw or Cerber or Cerber, I’m not sure how it’s actually pronounced, but I’m talking about the general family of the ransomware itself.
Veronica: And so what was your plan, what did you hope to get out of this?
Melissa: I was hoping for some interesting interactions with the guys behind it and just kind of wanting to see how they helped me through the process, and what they would settle for in terms of payment, just kind of how flexible would they be?
Veronica: So as this ransomware mystery shopper that you were pretending to be, what kind of criteria of customer service were you specifically looking for?
Melissa: The thing behind the study was that we were sort of in a tongue-in-cheek way, evaluating the best customer journey, or as we put it also, the least loathsome customer journey. I think we chose the Cerber family for the best product, because they just had the most professional website you could go to and there was like a countdown clock telling you how much time you had until you had to make the payment and there was a really nice, professional support form where you just type in and then the agent would type back to you very quickly and respond very quickly. So that one we awarded for the best product.
Read & Listen More at https://irlpodcast.org/episode3/
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