Fake cryptocurrency app installs ransomware on your computer

The SpriteCoin wallet will lock down your files and demand a ransom, researchers find. If you pay up, hackers just install more malicious software.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
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A malicious piece of software claims to help you store a cryptocurrency called SpriteCoin. Researchers found that the software will encrypt all your files.

James Martin/CNET

As enthusiasm grows for new forms of cryptocurrency, a group of hackers is trying to con you. A product billed as a digital storehouse for a cryptocurrency called SpriteCoin is actually ransomware, according to a report from cybersecurity researchers at Fortinet. 

The researchers don't think SpriteCoin is a real cryptocurrency, but if, in your haste to beat everyone else to the latest goldmine, you download a file claiming to be a SpriteCoin wallet, you're likely to find your computer's files encrypted and unreadable. A ransom note will tell you to pay a set amount in Monero -- a real cryptocurrency. 

Worse, if you pay, the key that's supposed to decrypt your files will install even more malicious software onto your device. 

The scam is one more example of how hackers apply old scams to new trends. One of the oldest tricks in the hacking book is getting you to download something bad onto your computer. If your excitement at making money off cryptocurrency causes you to be a little careless, it seems hackers could make some money off you. 

"The allure of quick wealth through cryptocurrency seems to be enough to trick unsuspecting users to rush toward the wallet app du jour without consideration," Fortinet researchers wrote in their description of the attack.

The researchers told ZDNet that hackers could be testing the waters with this attack, which they found being spread around on online forums.

"What we infer is that the intent is not about the amount of money, but possibly about proof of concept or testing new delivery mechanisms, and to see how many people would fall for it," Tony Giandomenico, a senior security researcher at Fortinet FortiGuard Labs, told ZDNet.

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