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Global cyberattacks reinforce the dangers of pirate websites

by Don Groves

Consumers have again been warned to avoid pirate sites after cyber criminals attacked computers at hundreds of businesses, universities, hospitals and other organisations in 150 countries last week.

Australia is particularly vulnerable to dangerous malware which infects not only PCs, tablets and phones but also TVs and DVR, according to a new study.

Last year, Malwarebytes Labs found that Australia ranked sixth behind the US, Germany, Italy, the UK and France for ransomware detections. Across the Asia Pacific region ransomware attacks surged by more than 250%.

That followed a Symantec report which said Australia experienced a 141% jump in such attacks in 2015.

As happened with last week’s WannaCrypt attacks, the ransomware software locks victims' devices and the criminals demand payment, usually by the untraceable bitcoin currency, to unlock it.

The Asia Digital Alliance seized on the crisis to repeat warnings against people who assume they are getting 'something for nothing' by visiting pirate websites.

"The malware threat continues to grow and grow and remains particularly acute across countries in Asia," said the Alliance, a coalition of Internet users, businesses, security experts and academics who promote a safe Internet environment.

"The assault prompted renewed warnings about the huge risks malware and other online threats pose economically, socially and politically."

Netflix recently rejected demands from a hacker who after demanding a ransom, released 10 episodes of the new season, Orange Is The New Black online.

The Walt Disney Co. has reportedly also been targeted and the studio is working on the case with federal investigators.

IBM's security research unit collects and monitors about 45 million pieces of spam a day worldwide.

In 2015, less than 1% of the spam was ransomware. By last year, 40% had a document or web link that activated ransomware, and the current attack threatens to lift that percentage higher, the New York Times reported this week.

In April, Interpol identified nearly 9,000 servers and hundreds of websites across Southeast Asia infected with dangerous malware. "Unfortunately, the urgency of the malware threat still needs to be better understood and dealt with by governments and stakeholders," the Alliance observed.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission warned last month that 'something for nothing' sounds appealing, but often there's a hidden cost.

If the something is a site or app offering free downloads or streams of well-known movies, popular TV shows, big-league sports, and absorbing games, the hidden cost is probably malware.

Sites offering free content often hide malware that can bombard the user with ads, take over their computer, or steal personal information.

"We recently downloaded movies from five sites that offered them for free. In all five cases, we ended up with malware on our computer."

"Finally, [if] some free download sites ask for a credit card to process your registration, it's not a good idea to give your credit card number to a site offering illegally downloaded content. They're run by pirates, not legit businesspeople, and you can't trust them with your financial information."

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