MERSEYSIDE Police is supporting a campaign by the National Crime Agency urging people to improve their computer security and protect themselves against a major computer virus.

The UK has a "two-week period" to protect itself from the virus that could give hackers access to sensitive information - costing the country millions of pounds, the National Crime Agency has said.

In a statement on the agency website, internet users have been encouraged to "protect themselves against powerful malicious software" by checking that their anti-virus software is up-to-date, and running scans to ensure t all applications are running correctly.

The move comes after the FBI in the US was successful in disrupting a hacking network, making security updates by users particularly effective in the short term.

The viruses in question are known as GOZeuS and CryptoLocker, with the first hiding within attachments in emails that when open give computer access to hackers, who use the software to scan devices for valuable information.

Experts believe more than 15,500 computers in the UK are infected with the software, called GOZeus and Cryptolocker.

GOZeus allows criminals to spy on internet activity, often leading to a victim's bank account being emptied through fraud.

Cryptolocker encrypts computers and then demands a ransom for them to be unlocked.

Action is being taken over the next two weeks to disrupt and weaken the global network of infected computers.

St Helens computer users are being given an opportunity to take some simple steps to protect themselves.

These include:

  • updating their operating system and regularly checking for updates
  • installing and updating anti-virus and security software. This can be free for a basic level of protection
  • being careful about clicking on links in unsolicited or 'spam' e-mails. This is one of the most common ways that computers get infected
  • changing their passwords to make them harder to guess, using a mixture of numbers, letters and other characters.

Detective Superintendent Richie Carr said: "Computer problems can seem daunting for lots of us but help is out there and I would urge people to take this opportunity to strengthen their security measures and protect themselves.

"There are some really good sites on the internet which people can go to for help, advice and tools to clean up their computers, including

"If people think their computer is infected with any malicious software they can report it to They should also tell their bank and change all their passwords."