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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Woman targeted by web hackers
Helen Barrow
Helen Barrow feared she would lose coursework for her degree
A woman from Greater Manchester has become a victim of an internet scam in which hackers hijack computer files and blackmail owners to get them back.

Helen Barrow, a 40-year-old nurse from Rochdale, is believed to be one of the first victims of the con in the UK.

Criminals encrypt files with complex passwords, leaving a ransom note telling victims not to contact police.

Ms Barrow's note said that she would have to buy drugs from an online pharmacy to find out the password.

The new phenomenon, known as Ransomware, means victims cannot access any of the files stored in their My Documents folder.

Ms Barrow, from Littleborough, discovered her computer files had vanished and replaced by one 30-digit password-protected folder.

When I realised what had happened, I just felt sick to the core
Helen Barrow

She also found a new file named "instructions how to get your files back".

Ms Barrow contacted police and an IT expert who managed to recover some of her files, which included coursework for her nursing degree.

The senior sister said: "When I realised what had happened, I just felt sick to the core.

"I was in shock.

"It was a horrible feeling and I thought I was going to lose all of my work.

Instructions left by the hackers
The hackers left instructions on how to retrieve the files

"I had lots of family photographs and personal letters on the computer and to think that other people could have been looking at them was awful."

A message had appeared on her computer screen telling her she had contracted an unnamed virus.

It is thought the message was part of the scam and she inadvertently downloaded it.

The virus is known as Archiveus and victims are told to buy pharmaceutical drugs from an internet chemist thought to be based in Russia.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: "Our High Tech Crime Unit is aware of this new type of crime and incidents of this kind could increase in future."

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