Ransomware creators have taken their extortion one step further: in addition to encrypting people's private files and asking for money before releasing a key, they now threaten to publish those files on the Internet if they're not paid.
This worrying development has recently been observed in a new ransomware program dubbed Chimera that was documented by the Anti-Botnet Advisory Centre, a service of the German Association of the Internet Industry.
The attackers behind this new threat target mainly businesses by sending rogue emails to specific employees that masquerade as job applications or business offers. The emails contain a link to a malicious file hosted on Dropbox.
Once Chimera infects a computer it starts encrypting the local files. After the first reboot it displays a ransom note on the user's desktop. The attackers ask for a payment of around 630 euro in Bitcoin in order to provide the decryption key.
Up to this point, the process is similar to that followed by other ransomware programs. However, Chimera's creators have taken their intimidation attempts to a new low. In their ransom note they claim that if they're not paid they will publish the user's files on the Internet.
There's no evidence that any victim's personal data has yet been released online, the German Anti-Botnet Advisory Centre said in a blog post.
It's not clear if the ransomware program does indeed siphon off user files before or after encrypting them. But the threat could be enough to scare even users who have backups into paying.
Ransomware programs typically encrypt data locally and don't upload it to command-and-control servers because that would require a lot of storage space, even if attackers restrict the theft to certain file types such as pictures.
But the prospect of this happening in the future is scary, as it would pose a major privacy risk to businesses and consumers alike.