Beware: Spreading computer virus holds your files hostage

SEATTLE -- Computer users are being warned of a mass virus that freezes your computer files, then extorts a ransom to unlock it.

It's called "ransomware," and it's designed by cyber criminals to sneak into your computer and spring to life as a pop-up claiming to be from the police, the FBI or even national security.

In some instances the criminals have designed the malware to manipulate your computer's camera to display as a mock mug shot, accusing you of downloading child porn or licensed music. And all you have to do is pay anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to release the hold.

"I get at least three or four calls every day for the FBI virus," said Matt Horon, who owns a computer-repair business called Computer Love. "They get scared, that's the intent of the virus maker."

Horon said whatever you do, don't pay the ransom because it's no guarantee the criminals will release their hold on your computer. He said, in many instances, it takes about three or four hours for a professional to safely remove the malware. But there is a potential risk of losing the most important files you store on your hard drive, such as bank statements, term papers and especially photos.

According to Facebook, users upload 350 million photos to the website every day. During the holidays that number skyrockets.

More and More tech companies are now warning people to be on the lookout for "ransomware." Just this week Microsoft suggested all their users back-up their files and consider storing them on the cloud where they'll be safe from attack.

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