The case has been made public by internet security firm ESET Ireland which received details from one of its partner companies in Wexford to which the man had gone seeking help.
The victim was checking emails and surfing the internet when he received a message on his computer screen telling him all his files had been attacked.
“All your files are now encrypted using a cryptographically strong algorithm. Without the original key recovery is impossible.”
The hackers told the computer owner that, to get the decoder and the original key, he needed to email the hackers at a certain email address.
“Our assistance is not free, so expect to pay a reasonable price for our decrypting services. No exceptions will be made.”
The Wexford company told ESET Ireland the man had files going back eight years on the machine, mostly to do with work.
“He didn’t want to chance paying the ransom fee, but would have chanced it if it had been around €200.”
ESET emailed the address the hackers had given and they demanded €800.
“I replied and played the sob story and said all my children’s pics were on it and I couldn’t afford the €800. They replied saying they would do it for €700 and, if I wasn’t interested in that price, tough.”
The man has had to get a new hard disk for his machine but, as ESET pointed out, eight years of files have been lost in an instant.
ESET Ireland raised three “major issues” about the man’s story. Firstly, he had no backup on his machine.
“External disks, USB sticks, DVDs, online storage like Dropbox or Google Drive can all be used for quick and easy backups of all your crucial files, documents, pictures,” they say.
The man was also using free antivirus software on a Windows XP system.
ESET points out that Microsoft support for Windows XP ended in April 2014. Microsoft’s site explains that “technical assistance for Windows XP is no longer available, including automatic updates that help protect your PC. PCs running Windows XP will not be secure and will be at risk for infection”.
Finally ESET said free antivirus software is usually not as fully functional as paid security packages.
“Therefore, they do not protect against the full range of online threats,” it said.