Security firm AVG has uncovered a new more dangerous version of the infamous Police Ransomware capable of fully encrypting all data stored on an infected machine.
The new Police Virus variant is more dangerous than most in that it can actually make good on previous versions' idle threat to encrypt users data if they did not pay the blackmailer.
"So far we've seen documents, images and even executable files affected by the encryption. Windows system files are excluded from this encryption process so your system won't stop working but many third party programs will, not to mention the loss of your personal data," warned AVG researcher, Hynek Blinka.
"This particular malware also disables regedit, task manager and msconfig to make the life of the victim even harder. However encrypted personal data which you simply cannot use is definitely bigger problem here."
The Police Virus is one of many active ransomware attacks currently active. Ransomware is a form of malware that dupes its victims by masquerading as a message from a legitimate law enforcement agency demanding money for fictional crimes.
Numerous examples of ransomware have been discovered across the globe pretending to be from a variety of organisations, including the FBI and the UK's Metropolitan Police force.
The malware is spread in a variety of ways, including as a malicious web link, infected file and even at times as a drive by download.
Criminals' use of ransomware has been a growing problem in the world of cyber security for some time.
Prior to the new Police ransomware variant's discovery Panda Security had detected a marked increase in the number of ransomware scams operating throughout 2012.
The firm warned the problem would only get worse in 2013 if appropriate action was not taken.