Computer crackers (let's try not to call them "Hackers" - the following is NOT hacking) have found a new means to try to extort money from their victims. A new type of virus found in the wild has been designed to intentionally encrypt a user's important data files, such as documents, photographs and spreadsheets. If the user wants to access the data again, they must obtain the decryption key - for a price. A recent scam tried to get users to pay money into an account to obtain the key and reclaim the lost data. Although currently rare, the scam may be set to increase.

"This is equivalent to someone coming into your home, putting your valuables in a safe and not telling you the combination," Oliver Friedrichs, a security manager for the security company Symantec, said.

Dubbed ransom-ware, the new form of attack could be instigated by a user visiting a website, or from downloading an attachment in an e-mail. In recent cases, law enforcement officers in special technical departments have been able to return the data to the victims without them having to make payments, but it is only time before a much more powerful encryption and virus code is used.