Ransomware: How Hackers Are Shaking Down Police Departments

Ransomware virus has prompted police to pay hackers.

— -- Police departments across the United States have been made easy targets for hackers who infect their computers, encrypt their documents and give them a deadline to make a payment.

"It's a multi-million dollar business," he said. "They're getting paid and they're getting paid well."

Ransomware can infect a computer if the recipient clicks a dangerous link or downloads material masquerading as a benign attachment. Users with out of date browsers or no anti-virus protection are especially at risk, Siciliano said.

"When they are attacked they usually see a countdown screen, a clock counting down the time they have until the offer expires and their data is deleted," Siciliano said.

Paying overseas hackers to return data is made surprisingly simple with an online payment processing system that allows victims to seamlessly pay off the perpetrators.

The outcome is likely the only choice for police snared by the scam.

"If you stand to lose more than the ransom might cost, then certainly it’s a consideration," Siciliano said. "But the thing is, if you're proactive and backing up your data in multiple locations then you have less to worry about."