Multi-Level Marketing Ransomware

Viruses are the new Mary Kay or Herbalife. You may have recently seen the clip from John Oliver’s show, “Last Week Tonight”, where he discusses multi-level marketing. These are companies that enlist you to sell their products, like Mary Kay, but you can make even more money if you get your friends to start selling the products too.

A new virus has adopted this model. The new software, Popcorn Time, works like all previous ransomware we have seen. It infects your computer, encrypts your files, then demands payment in order to get you files back. However, Popcorn Time goes a step further. Instead of paying the ransom, you could infect two other people to get your files back. Then those two people could infect four more people for them to get their files back, and so on. Popcorn Time doesn’t need to exploit vulnerabilities to spread – it only has to exploit its current victims.

I have previously warned of this kind of virus. If you do not have a backup of your data, your only option to get your crucial files back is to pay the ransom (or now, infect your friends, or maybe your unpleasant opposing counsel).

There are two methods to protect yourself against this kind of infection:

  1. Practice safe computing. Keep your system up to date (yes, those pesky Microsoft updates are important), don’t click on links in emails, don’t download unknown email attachments, and be careful with where you go online.
  2. When that fails (and it often does) – have a good backup. If your files are backed up, you never need to pay the ransom. You simply restore the files from the backup and you are up and running in minutes.

I highly recommend Backblaze for backups. It is a fully encrypted, low-cost ($50 per computer/yr) automatic backup system, that continually backs up your files. It also provides versioning, which keeps multiple version of the same file. For example, if you open a document, make some changes and save it, Backblaze keeps both the original and the modified version. So, if a crypto virus encrypts your documents, Backblaze keeps both the original and the encrypted version, allowing you go back to the non-encrypted document.

Protect yourself, your files, and your clients. Be safe online and have a good backup system!