Ransomware viruses that hijack a a user's computer and demand payment for snake-oil anti-virus software are nothing new, but there's a new twist on it in Japan. A new virus targets people downloading hentai (an explicit form of anime cartoons) from P2P networks, and poses as an installation screen for a game that asks for users' personal info. Once this is entered, it starts taking screengrabs of users' web activity, which it posts online under their name, and asks for payment of 1500 yen (about $16) to "settle your violation of copyright law"
and take down the page. There's a similar scam running in Europe, says a security firm, in which a virus scans a computer's hard drive, and regardless of what it finds, demands payment of $400 for a "pretrial settlement" of copyright infringement claims. Essentially these scams are just online versions of what firms like Digiprotect, ACS:Law and Davenport Lyons do through the mail -- send out thousands of letters demanding people pay up
for supposedly downloading copyrighted content. That scheme (which manages to ensnare plenty of innocent users
) is quite profitable for the firms that run it -- so it shouldn't be too surprising to see malware scammers move in. It's an interesting question, though: really, what's the fundamental difference between what the malware peddlers and these supposedly legitimate companies are doing?