Ransomware can target mobile phones in addition to computers

Posted at 6:30 PM, May 16, 2017

Ransomware doesn’t only target desktop and laptop computers, but some cell phones as well, according to internet security experts.

“We’ve seen Ransomware start to be developed for Android mobile devices,” said Eric Klonowski, Senior Advanced Threat Research Analyst at the anti-virus company Webroot. “All this is a major concern.”

Mobile phone ransomware looks very similar to what you might see on a computer.

A popup message appears on the screen demanding money, usually hundreds of dollars.

In one example Klonowski provided, the popup image says $200 is required to “unlock your device.”

One of the most common types of ransomware on the mobile phone is called Simplelocker.

“This first appeared around 2014 and has matured since then,” he said.

Klonowski calls the problem serious.

“There are pictures of your family. Maybe that vacation trip that you took in 2015 that you want for the rest of your life,” he said. “Without paying the ransom, there's a possibility that you'll never get those photos.”

In most cases, hackers will give a user back the ability to access data after the ransom is paid.

Ransomware has not shown up on iPhones yet, Klonowski says.

“It’s highly unlikely that we will see iPhone ransomware sneak through the app store. In addition to reviewing all apps, Apple has a number of security measures in place that prevent apps from interacting with other apps or your pictures, data, etc. while installed,” he said. “Android phones also have similar security measures, but the user can often be coerced to disable it. Successful iPhone ransomware would require a very sophisticated attack on an unprecedented scale.”

Most hackers who design ransomware do it without much sophistication and find it most lucrative to design software for computers, he said.

“Ransomware is super easy to develop. These are concepts learned in Computer Science 101, file modification and very basic (encryption,) he said.

David Chalson had a ransomware popup on his laptop three years ago.

“I did not pay,” he said.

Without a full backup of his data, he lost some photos. His computer no longer functions properly.

“It’s collecting dust and is virtually unusable,” he said.

Klonowski suggests mobile and computer users back up their data to an external hard drive. Most mobile phones can be backed up to a computer and that data can then be copied to an external drive.

Once the backup is complete, he says users should disconnect the hard drive so if the computer or mobile phone is infected, it will not spread to the disconnected drive.