By Mahita Gajanan
June 7, 2017

A new type of ransomware turns victims into attackers in a pyramid scheme conceived by hackers to increase the number of computer systems that are held hostage for payment.

People who were infected by Popcorn Time ransomware in an attack late last year were offered two ways to regain access to their computers: pay a ransom of one bitcoin, worth about $2,365, or pass on the malware to two other people in an effort to infect them. If someone known to the victim clicked on the malware, the attackers would hand back control of the computer to the initially hacked person.

According to a New York Times report, the Popcorn Time ransomware was the first pyramid scheme-style of attack, in which people trap each other with ransomware. The Times reports that cybersecurity researchers are monitoring the scheme to see if it works — if it’s successful, criminal networks are likely to latch on to the method.

“When a new model works, it quickly grows as others build on it,” Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, told the Times.

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