In an exclusive tour of the new lab, Fortune got a glimpse of Law & Order in the digital age. The lab is Exhibit A in how America’s biggest city is embracing big data analytics and a dash of hacker culture to solve complex crimes. It also raises hard questions about how to balance these sophisticated crime-fighting tools with civil liberties.
What happens when a computer is infected with the malicious software, and what should you do to protect your files?
Cryptolocker is back in the headlines, thanks to a coordinated effort to take down the computers and criminals that run the notorious “ransomware”. But what is it? And how can you fight it?
Cryptolocker is ransomware: malicious software which holds your files to ransom
The software is typically spread through infected attachments to emails, or as a secondary infection on computers which are already affected by viruses which offer a back door for further attacks.
When a computer is infected, it contacts a central server for the information it needs to activate, and then begins encrypting files on the infected computer with that information. Once all the files are encrypted, it posts a message asking for payment to decrypt the files – and threatens to destroy the information if it doesn’t get paid.
The authorities have won users a two-week window of safety
The National Crime Agency (NCA) announced yesterday that the UK public has got a “unique, two-week opportunity to rid and safeguard” themselves from Cryptolocker. The agency didn’t go into more detail, but it seems likely that at least one of the central servers which Cryptolocker speaks to before encrypting files has been taken down.
The NCA has also taken down the control system for a related piece of software, known as GameOver Zeus, which provides criminals with a backdoor into users’ computers. That back door is one of the ways a computer can be infected with Cryptolocker in the first place.
What that means is, until the window is closed – and the virus cycles to new servers – users who are infected with Cryptolocker won’t lose their files to encryption. As a result, these users have the chance to remove the virus before it destroys data, using conventional anti-virus software. In other words, there has never been a better time to update the protection on your computer.
But watch out – while the servers that control Cryptolocker are out of action, it’s possible to be infected with it and not know. If you don’t keep your computer clean, then at the end of the two-week period, you could be in for a nasty surprise.
Charlie Shrem stands accused of knowingly selling over $1m of bitcoins to users of the Silk Road online black-marketplace
The vice chair of the Bitcoin Foundation, Charlie Shrem, has been arrested for conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
The arrest comes as a major blow for the digital currency lobby group. Bitcoin Foundation staff have been working hard to distance the digital currency from its links to crime. They testified to the Senate last year and have been lobbying regulators in Washington.
Patrick Murck, Bitcoin’s general counsel, said: “I don’t think it’s damaging for the Foundation. Foundation wasn’t involved in any of the allegations.”
The charges stem from Shrem’s ownership of the BitInstant bitcoin exchange, of which he is the chief executive, co-founder and compliance officer. The exchange hit the headlines in May 2013 when the Winklevoss brothers led a seed round which raised $1.5m of investment.
A second man, Robert Faiella, has also been arrested and charged for the same crimes relating to his operation of a small bitcoin exchange under the name BTCKing.
The charges, unsealed by the Manhattan distort attorney Preet Bharara, accuse the pair of “engaging in a scheme to sell over $1m in bitcoins to users of Silk Road”, the online black marketplace which was closed by the FBI in October 2013.
Shrem is additionally charged with “wilfully failing to file any suspicious activity report regarding Faiella’s illegal transactions through the company,” the documents reveal.