9 Sep 2016

NZ cyber ransom victim: 'It felt better to pay up and shut up'

6:49 pm on 9 September 2016

A victim of a cyber ransom attack is warning others to take steps to protect their information, saying it was a terrible experience.

Maree McManaway

Maree McManaway Photo: Supplied

Cyber crimes, and cyber-ransoming in particular, are on the rise in New Zealand, according to the GCSB.

In a cyber-ransoming attack, a company or individual's online files are locked down, and a ransom demanded for access to be restored.

Maree McManaway, who runs a life coaching business in the Wairarapa, was sent a demand for money, after all of her information was locked down by hackers.

Earlier this year, she opened an email about a power bill, but it turned out to be a computer hack.

"I put my computer on and it was just a mass of Xs across the screen."

She said she asked her tech-savvy son to have a look and it soon became apparent she was facing a major problem.

"And before long there was a thing that came up in black print on the screen saying 'you are being held to ransom' and you have, I think it gave me something like three days to pay X amount of dollars in American, using bitcoins."

Ms McManaway said the ransom was the equivalent of $US5000.

With her son's help she tried to negotiate with the hackers, telling them she was not a big business, but they refused to negotiate.

It was impossible to tell who the hackers were, she said.

"I approached a local computer service who helped me to wipe my entire computer.

"Later on and he said 'they could be in a basement in India, they could be in Japan, they could be literally in the Wairarapa in a garage' - you have no idea where they come from."

In the end, Ms McManaway said she lost not only the business files on her computer, but all of her personal information like photos.

She said she did initially consider paying the ransom to get everything back.

"I genuinely did because I believed that I was going to lose so much that it was just better to pay up and shut up, so to speak.

"However, I was talked out of it by the company who rejigged my computer and also family, and although it's been very difficult to rebuild, the computer itself has been upgraded and it's working far more professionally."

Ms McManaway said her business had a few "wobbly weeks", but was now back up and running as it was before the hack.

Now she backs up all of the data on her computer every month, and she has a simple piece of advice if suspicious emails appear in your inbox.

"If in doubt, hit delete."

In her case she did not open any attachments or links, it was just opening the email that enabled the ransomware attack.

Ms McManaway said it was a very disturbing experience, and no-one expects an attack from the cyber world.

"It's a new thing, but it's a very real thing and something as time goes on with technology advances that we must all be more vigilant about."

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