Filenappers used a virus, called Arhiveus, to infect Helen Barrow's computer and lock all her files. The attackers then instructed Barrow, a student nurse, to buy drugs from an online outlet. Only then, said the hackers, would she be sent a password which would release her files.
Barrow managed to get hold of a working password and rescue her data, but Manchester Police say that the case is closed. "In terms of trying to find who did this it would be a monument task to have to do," said a spokeswoman for Manchester Police. "This is not an investigation that is continuing."
The virus had previously been used on other victims, and Barrow managed to contact someone with knowledge of the relevant password. "Someone helped her find the password on the net which unlocked the files," said the police spokeswoman. "This is a virus that is known and has been around for some time. What is new is the approach, seeming to be from a pharmaceutical company. The approach was different, not the problem itself."
The police force said that this kind of attack may be on the increase. "GMP's High Tech Crime Unit is aware of this new type of crime," said a statement, "and that incidents of this kind could increase in future."
The attack uses the Arhiveus virus to infect the attacked computer, allowing files to be moved. Security experts say that the already-documented type of attack is avoidable through the use of standard antivirus software and by keeping virus signatures up to date.