Though everyone dreads malware infections, ransomware is a particularly nasty brand of malware. Ransomware is a particular type of malware that seeks to get a monetary payout from an infected victim, usually by masquerading as law enforcement or an entity accusing the victim of a crime. The computer is rendered unusable until the victim pays a “fine” before the ransomware dissipates. Cryptolocker is the newest of this kind of malware, and one of the worst so far.
Cryptolocker infections generally come through email links, and once on the computer are able to affect any networked drives and connected portable storage devices. Once on the computer, the virus proceeds to systematically encrypt every file it can reach, with the encryption key being stored off site. The virus then asks for a ransom of roughly $300 in pre-paid cards or bitcoins, waits three days, and then deletes the files if the ransom is unpaid.
The encryption is basically unbreakable for the average user, and as of now once you have the virus there seems to be no real solution (besides the ethical dilemma of paying the ransom). The way to avoid this nasty virus is mostly preventative. As always, check who your e-mail came from and keep physical backups of your files. Most cloud backup services also have versioned copies that may allow you to access an older version of your files.
There is also a free silver bullet program called CryptoPrevent that prevents key executables in Cryptolocker from functioning. It is also a preventative measure, so it is recommended you install it sooner rather than later.