Ransomware has been the biggest digital threat of 2016.

It’s malicious software that encrypts important files on your gadget and holds them hostage until you pay a ransom.

It’s so widespread, the FBI is asking victims to help track down the scammers.

The newly discovered ramsomware is known as Popcorn Time malware. Like other ransomware scams, this one encrypts your files and asks for a payment of one bitcoin, around $772, to unlock them. However, this attack has a sneaky twist.

What makes Popcorn Time more devious

Instead of just asking the victim to pay a ransom to unlock their gadget, the Popcorn Time scam gives another option. The second option is referred to by the criminal as the “nasty way.”

Instead of paying the ransom, you can send a malicious link to other people. If two or more people install the file and pay the ransom, the scammer will decrypt your files for free. Nasty!

Researchers with the MalwareHunterTeam discovered this attack. It’s currently in the development stage but could soon be released in full.

This would be the first known pyramid-scheme type of a ransomware attack. If this scam is successful it could breed countless others just like it, making ransomware that much more vile.

There is another potentially scary aspect to the Popcorn Time malware. If you try guessing the decryption code on your own, without paying the ransom, and get it wrong four times, your files could be deleted.

That feature seems to be in the works. We won’t know if it’s actually part of the attack until it’s fully released.

FBI recommendations

Some law enforcement agencies have recommended not paying for a ransomware attack. Their theory is there is no guarantee that you will get your files back. Some of the criminals behind these attacks have claimed to return victims’ files once they pay but actually the files are deleted the moment the gadget is infected.

  • Back up data regularly – this could be the best way to recover your critical data if you are infected.
  • Make sure your backups are secure – do not connect your backups to computers or networks that they are backing up.
  • Never open risky links in emails – don’t open attachments from unsolicited emails.
  • Download only trusted software – make sure the software you download comes from trusted sites.
  • Have strong security software – This will help prevent the installation of ransomware on your gadget.