It's a 12 On Your Side Alert on a cyber threat even the experts call scary. Cyber professionals say it's ransomware that can't be fixed – just avoided.
If you see an email claiming to be a fax, don't open the attached file. Kevin Boynton with The Computer Doctor of Richmond says it's one way crooks hide a nasty ransomware called Prison Locker. He says it's worse than previous threats.
"What sends people into a panic is that there is a countdown timer and this countdown timer is real. If you do not pay within the set amount of time, that password key is going to be gone and you will not get your data back. There is no way that any I-T Professional is going to be able to break this encryption," he explains.
Boynton says computers are usually infected when users click on malicious links or open attachments in emails. Once you've clicked it, it's too late and your data is hijacked.
"It is like paying a terrorist, but you have to make that decision yourself. Is this data important enough to pay the $300, $750, $2,000 ransom?," Boynton says.
There are a couple of things you can do to protect your money and your information. First, don't click on links or attachments in emails. Second, back up your data on a regular basis.
"What is different about this new threat is instead of doing one password for all of your stuff, it has a unique password code for each and every single file that you have," he says.
Catching the criminals is next to impossible. Most of the time they are overseas and if their operation is shutdown, it's not the end of the threat.
"There is big money in it for them. So they will keep adapting and coming up with new ways to try and separate you from your identity, your data and your money," our expert says.
To make matters worse, cyber professionals say this ransomware may be headed for the black market as a do-it-yourself attack kit -- for as little as $100. If you see one of the suspicious emails, you can report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov