As if the Italian economy isn’t in a bad enough state, organisations in the country have been plagued by a spate of attacks by the unpleasant TorrentLocker ransomware, with at least one local government office being forced to pay 'i criminali' hundreds of euros to get back critical data.

According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and the Italian security consultancy, Digital Forensics Bureau called into help with the attacks on 14 October, TorrentLocker has cut a swathe through Italian business in recent weeks, infecting “dozens” thanks to ineffective antivirus software and naïve user behaviour.

In the town council of Bussoleno near Turin, things got a bit more desperate. Rather than report the outbreak and wait for a ransom payment to be sanctioned by head office, the employees decided to chip in to meet it themselves before the price increased from the roughly 400 euros (roughly 1.4 Bitcoins) being demanded.

The latest campaign appears to have netted good money for the criminals, with a Digital Forensics Bureau analysis of Bitcoin wallets finding that hundreds of victims have paid the criminals to the tune of around 100,000 euros within a matter of weeks.

When Techworld checked the blockchains mentioned as being connected to the campaign, these showed that ransom payments started on 17 September and have continued up to 28 October.

The cause of the rapid spread appears to be TorrentLocker’s new, worm-like ability to spread by mailing a booby-trapped attachment to contacts it finds in the address book on infected computers.  This is unusual for ransomware which has hitherto avoided such obvious tactics for fear if bringing itself to the attention of antivirus companies before enough ransoms have been paid.

TorrentLocker first emerged in Australia in August as one of a small number of copycat ransom attacks inspired by the vast success of the now defunct CryptoLocker malware a year ago. Other forms of this type of attack include CryptoDefense and the current market leader, CryptoWall.

About a month later, its creators fixed a flaw that made it easier to recover the key used to encrypt files, something that researchers unfortunately made public enough for the criminals to fix the bug in later versions. A major part of its behaviour appears to be to target countries one by one in the hope of exploiting the element of surprise. By October, it was simply Italy's turn.

Bizarrely, the software uses the CryptoLocker brand when demanding money, despite not apparently being connected to it.