A computer virus that encrypts files and then demands that victims pay a “ransom” to decrypt those items recently hit the Swansea Police Department.

The department paid $750 for two Bitcoins — an online currency — to decrypt several images and word documents in its computer system, Swansea Police Lt. Gregory Ryan said.

“It was an education for (those who) had to deal with it,” Ryan said, adding that the virus did not affect the software program that the police department uses for police reports and booking photos.

Ryan also said that no outside parties gained access to any personal information, and that the police department did not lose any files.

“We were never compromised,” Ryan said.

CryptoLocker, a new Windows ransomware virus sweeping across the country, hit the Swansea Police Department on Nov. 6. The virus encrypted several files that could only be decrypted through the purchase of Bitcoins, an unregulated digital currency, to pay for the special “decryption key.” A countdown clock appeared on a computer screen showing how much time the department had to buy the key before all the files were deleted.

The Swansea Police Department bought the key and decrypted the files on Nov. 10.

“(The virus) is so complicated and successful that you have to buy these Bitcoins, which we had never heard of,” Ryan said.

Matt Fernandes, owner of WaveOne Technologies Inc., a computer service store in Somerset, urged people not to pay the ransom, but instead to report the infection to the FBI and to take their computers to a repair shop.

Fernandes said the computer virus has spread rapidly in recent months, and that he sees five to 10 customers — many of them elderly — every week reporting their computers being affected.
“This is the worst (computer virus) I’ve ever seen,” said Fernandes, whose business recently helped a mortgage company in East Providence restore its files after its computer system was attacked.

Fernandes said the virus changes files’ extensions, which makes it impossible to open them through regular computer programs. He said the files can be restored to their original format, but that work is very time-consuming.

“It’s a very tedious process,” Fernandes said.

Meanwhile, computer analysts are combing the Swansea Police Department’s computer system, looking to tighten security protocols.

“The virus is not here anymore,” Ryan said. “We’ve upgraded our antivirus software. We’re going to try to tighten the belt, and have experts come in, but as all computer experts say, there is no foolproof way to lock your system down.”

Ryan said the department does not know how the virus got into the system or if someone opened an email attachment.

According to several published reports, the CryptoLocker virus is often attached to an official-looking, but false, email message from UPS or FedEx purporting to be a tracking notification. When someone opens the e-mail, they are asked to download a Zip file that contains an executable file (.exe) that unleashes the virus.