Hackers are using a new tactic to spread ransomware by getting victims to do the dirty work of infection themselves.

Criminals behind a ransomware variant known as “Popcorn Time” (which is completely unrelated to a video streaming BitTorrent client of the same name) have told victims they can avoid having to pay one bitcoin if they agree to infect two other users.

The ransomware was discovered by researchers at MalwareHunterTeam. According to Bleeping Computer, if a victim incorrectly enters the wrong decryption code in four times, their data gets deleted completely.

The malware targets files found in My Documents, My Pictures, My Music and on the desktop. They are then scrambled using AES-256 encryption and labelled with a .filock extension. The authors of the malware claim the money will be used to provide food and shelter for refugees in Syria.

Victims that choose to infect others are given a “referral” URL that they then must send on to two other unsuspecting victims. Should those links get used to infect other systems, the initial victim gets a free decryption key. The URL points to the ransomware’s Tor server.

The malware is very much a work in progress, Bleeping Computer reports. Users have been warned to not click on links they don’t recognise, even if they come from people they know. Users should also have backups of data stored on a separate drive should they fall victim to such malware.

A recent report from Kaspersky suggests ransomware attacks have significantly increased over the past 12 months, from one every two minutes to one every 40 seconds for businesses, while for individuals the rate increased from every 20 seconds to every ten seconds. SMBs were hardest hit, with 42% of them falling victim to a ransomware attack over the past 12 months.



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