A unique kind of malware circulating on the internet freezes computers and then asks for a ransom to be paid through the Western Union money-transfer service.
A sample of the Trojan horse virus was sent yesterday to Sophos, a security vendor, said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant. The malware, which Sophos named Troj/Ransom-A, is one of only a few viruses so far that have asked for a ransom in exchange for releasing control of a computer, Cluley said.
The Trojan falls into a class of viruses described as "ransomware". The schemes had been seen in Russia, but the first one appeared in English just last month.
"It is a new kind of malware with a particularly nasty payload," Cluley said.
It's unclear how the Trojan is being spread, although Sophos is investigating, Cluley said. Viruses can be spread in several ways, including through spam or a so-called drive-by download that exploits a browser vulnerability when a user visits a malicious website.
Once run, the Trojan freezes the computer, displaying a message saying files are being deleted every 30 minutes. It then gives instructions on how to send $11 (about £6.15) via Western Union to free the computer.
Hitting the control, alt and delete keys will not affect the bug, the virus writer warns. Sophos provides further details here.
The virus writer even offers tech support, Cluley said. If the method of unlocking the computer doesn't work after the money is sent, the virus writer promises to research the problem and includes an email address.
Last month, a Trojan emerged that encrypts a user's documents and then leaves a file demanding $300 (£168) in exchange for the password to access the information. Victims were instructed to send money to one of 99 accounts run by e-gold, a company that runs a money transfer site.
The password, however, was contained on the infected computer. Sophos cracked it and publicly released it.