What would you do if a screen like this one -- purporting to be from the FBI (US Federal Bureau of Investigation) -- popped up on your PC screen? It claims that you engaged in some illegal activity and requires that you go to your local electronics store to purchase a MoneyPak card to pay your "fine!" If you are like most people, you'd panic a little bit and wonder what you could have possibly could have done wrong. Then, after a few minutes you would realize that you had been infected by one of the latest, insidious malware systems -- something I call "ransomware."
Ransomware seeks to get you to pay someone to unlock your computer, but really it is just a way to rip you off. NEVER pay anyone anything when you computer is infected by malware. If you use a credit card it will quickly be charged up to its maximum and might even allow for additional identity theft. If you purchased this MoneyPak gift card, as instructed by this malware, you would simply be turning over $100-$200 of cash to the person who infected your machine AND your machine would almost certainly STILL be infected.
If you are faced by malware like this, seek out a reputable computer service tech -- either your own personal contact or one of the major electronics chains like Staples of Best Buy. For a fee, they will unravel the malware and get your computer working again.
I faced this FBI malware for the first time today and it is insidious. It seeks to lock you out of your computer entirely, so removing it is no easy task. You first have to figure our some way of starting the computer without also triggering the malware. In my case, this involved starting up the PC is "Safe Mode with Command Line" by tapping the F8 key on the keyboard immediately after starting the computer. Even the Windows Safe Mode was triggering the virus so my only recourse was to fall back on my ancient knowledge of the DOS command line. I found a few suspicious files and then, after removing them, I was able to boot the PC into Safe Mode with the Windows interface enabled.
This then let me run my favorite malware cleanup tool, Malwarebytes, on the computer to remove any further infections. Malware often travels in packs -- one infection allows another and then another -- so you need to make sure the PC is completely clean before returning it to its user. I also had to re-install Microsoft Security Essentials, the the malware had disabled it. I noticed that both Adobe Flash and Java needed updating on this computer and it is possible that one of these 2 programs/systems was the vector for the infection. It is so important to keep your software updated, including Windows Updates and both of these.
There are lots of great resources on cleaning up this FBI/MoneyPak ransomware and that is where I turned when I needed more information. Especially helpful were these instructions (including manual removal instructions) from BotCrawl.com.