Hundreds of computer users in Hartlepool and Billingham have been hit by hackers using Trojan Horse viruses.
At least 70 devices in the Hart area of Hartlepool plus another 400 in Billingham have been targeted as part of more than 1,400 to be affected across Cleveland.
Trojan Horse viruses takes their name from the classical story of the Trojan Horse as they imitate legitimate practices to infect computers and gain access to confidential data.
Cleveland Police say they have released the statistics following a highly-sensitive operation with the aim of locating where such malware is present.
The areas most affected are;
• Linthorpe in Middlesbrough with 600 potential at-risk computers;
• Central Billingham with 400;
• Saltburn with 130;
• Hart ward in Hartlepool with 70.
Police believe that there is a possibility that some computers could have been infected for years.
They are urging computer users to ensure that their systems are protected by legitimate and well-known anti-virus software and that passwords are then changed.
PC Ian Turnbull, from the Cleveland Police cyber crime team, said: “We believe over 1,400 computers are infected throughout Cleveland and whilst we can’t specifically pin point the exact
location by household, by raising overall awareness of Trojan Horses we hope to reduce the figure dramatically.
“Some people are lucky and have a Trojan Horse on their computer which hasn’t been accessed by criminals, but others are not so lucky and have bank details stolen, software and data
corrupted, and key strokes logged for passwords.
“I would urge people to use strong passwords, to install anti-virus software and keep all software up to date.
"It’s definitely worth the effort and expense to invest in anti-virus software because the cost of not being protected, both in terms of financial loss and emotional impact, could be huge.”
Officers are hosting an online web chat for anyone who wants to ask questions about Trojan malware or other viruses on Wednesday between 6pm and 8pm. The web chat is
part of a week long campaign to raise awareness of cyber security.
Anyone wishing to join the web chat can visit https://cleveland.police.uk/get-involved/community-click.aspx or visit the Facebook and Twitter pages for Cleveland Police.
Information and advice can also be found by visiting www.getsafeonline.org.
What is malware?
Malware is software used or created by hackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information or gain access to private computer systems.
Short for malicious software, it is often contained within a website link or attachment within an email - usually with a subject line containing inviting phrases such as "free gift", "money
off" or "congratulations, you have won......."
The names of reputable High Street firms are also used to lure receivers in to responding.
Once you have clicked into any link within the email then hackers can access your computer to begin scanning for useful data such as bank account details and passwords.
Experts advise owners to either ignore such emails or, if they stiil think the sender could be genuine, to contact them by proven means such as addresses, numbers or links used during