Pirates, Beware! Patcher Virus Is Coming for You!

Here at the Identity Theft Resource Center, we try to focus on ways the public can minimize their risk of identity theft and being hacked while also acknowledging that sometimes this crime is completely out of their hands.

This type of crime runs the spectrum from large-scale data breaches that steal millions of email account logins, to “inside job” attacks where a medical billing clerk accesses your complete identifying information. In cases like those, there’s almost nothing you could have done to prevent the theft, and your only recourse is to be pro-active about watching for suspicious activity.

But we would be remiss if we didn’t alert the public to some of the behaviors that can increase your risk of becoming a victim. Behaviors, like using weak passwords or reusing them on all of your accounts, can certainly increase your chances of losing control of your data. Forgetting to request your credit reports and watching over them for strange inquiries can mean you won’t know if someone is using your personal information to open new accounts.

There’s no better example of this than the recently discovered Patcher ransomware that’s targeting Mac computers. This type of software locks up all of your files under unknown encryption, and the only way to regain control is to pay the ransom. In Patcher’s case, you can certainly avoid installing the malware in the first place: it’s being hidden in illegal software downloads.

There are numerous websites that let you download free workarounds, such as certification keys to get free copies of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and high-priced games. Some sites entice victims with stolen content, like the infamous celebrity nude photo leak in 2014, and others contain bootlegged copies of current run movies. This form of rampant piracy isn’t without a price, though, as so-called torrent sites can be rife with harmful software.

Patcher has another problem besides just being pesky ransomware: it doesn’t work. More precisely, when you pay the Bitcoin ransom of about $250US, there’s no mechanism within its code to “talk” to its creator. The software doesn’t connect to a server, meaning it can’t tell the person who infected you that you’ve paid the ransom. Likewise, they don’t have a way to connect with you to release your files with the encryption key. Your files are locked for good.

It’s poor form to sit back and say, “Well, that’s what people get for stealing digital content.” After all, piracy is wrong but so is ransomware and other malicious software. There’s also no reason to believe someone won’t use a program like Patcher to infect innocent people on other sites, people who are conducting legitimate web business. In order to protect yourself from this kind of attack, make sure you’re engaging in safe—and legal—internet behaviors, and avoid the temptation to click on anything shady. Of course, on the off chance that your files are accidentally locked or deleted, it’s a good idea to back up your important content on an external hard drive or cloud storage service regularly.


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