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Maze ransomware decryption and removal

7 min read
Find out how the Maze ransomware has changed the extortion landscape and what techniques are worth trying to recover from the attack and restore data.
  1. What is the Maze ransomware?
  2. Maze ransomware automated removal and data recovery
  3. Maze ransomware manual removal and file recovery
  4. Ransomware Prevention Tips

What is the Maze ransomware?

In November 2019, the global ransomware plague underwent an evolutionary tweak that paved the way towards an all-new digital extortion paradigm. As if the classic encryption-based attack chain weren’t devastating enough, ransomware operators have enhanced their repertoire with an extra flavor that comes down to data theft. As a result, the infiltrated organizations now face a dilemma: to pay up, or to discover their proprietary files leaked on publicly accessible resources. Obviously, none of these scenarios is favorable. The former implies financial losses and the latter entails reputational damages that can be yet more impactful.

This groundbreaking change stems from a once-marginal strain called Maze ransomware. It was the first one to adopt a data breach tactic alongside malicious encryption. Moreover, its authors have set up a public shaming site where they upload some files stolen from companies as a way to pressure the victims. In late April 2020, they reportedly compromised Cognizant, a U.S. based IT services giant. Some other previously victimized orgs include American staffing firm Allied Universal; the city of Pensacola, FL; health facility MDLab, NJ; and major cable manufacturer Southwire, GA. The list goes on and on, so Maze is a rapidly escalating threat to businesses and local governments.

Maze ransomware warning replaces the victim’s desktop background
Maze ransomware warning replaces the victim’s desktop background

Here are some technical facts about Maze ransomware attack vectors, encryption mechanism, explicitly manifested symptoms, and extortion methods. The distribution is a multi-pronged collection of techniques, with the specific one being chosen for each network individually. The common ones include remote desktop protocol (RDP) hacks, the use of exploit kits such as Fallout, and spear-phishing based on competently conducted open source intelligence (OSINT). If the email channel is the case, the malicious payload is downloaded onto a host once the unsuspecting victim enables macros in an attached Word document. As soon as the pest is in, it attempts to move laterally across the breached environment in order to maximize the attack surface.

Maze employs a mix of two encryption algorithms to render the victim’s data inaccessible. One is the ChaCha stream cipher associated with Salsa20 symmetric encryption standard. The other is the asymmetric RSA-2048 algo. The cryptographic implementation is flawless, which means that the perpetrators-owned decryption key is the only prerequisite for recovery. In addition to becoming off limits, every encrypted file gets a random extension appended to its name. The filename, including the original extension, isn’t modified. The following transformation of a sample file 1.docx demonstrates this approach: it looks like 1.docx.HdtnR or similar. Once again, the string varies from attack to attack.

Maze ransomware payment page
Maze ransomware payment page

Another symptom is the ransom note that comes in two formats. One of them, DECRYPT-FILES.txt, is dropped onto Windows desktop and created inside folders with hostage data in them. There is also a recovery manual named DECRYPT-FILES.html, which opens a new window or tab in the victim’s default web browser. Both let the user know what’s going on and provide the essentials to get started with paid decryption. These details include the attackers’ contact information, that is, email addresses such as koreadec@tutanota.com and yourrealdecrypt@airmail.cc. Additionally, there is a long base64 blob that identifies the victim – it needs to be sent to the malefactors to proceed with the rest of the process. The ransomware also replaces the desktop wallpaper with a warning message that says, among other things, that the attackers can restore up to three files for free as proof that the recovery works.

When contacted, the criminals instruct the victim to visit a personal payment page that specifies the size of the ransom based on the number of infected machines on the network. In some of the reported incidents, it exceeded 100 Bitcoin. So, the amount can reach millions of dollars if a major corporation is compromised. To add insult to injury, the felons have already leaked data pilfered from some companies in response to non-payment. All in all, Maze ransomware is a huge concern. It showed a bad example of a two-pronged cybercrime model, which encouraged several other high-profile ransomware groups such as Sodinokibi, Nemty, and DoppelPaymer, to join the trend. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to decrypt data locked by Maze unless the right secret key is at the victim’s disposal. Every option is worth a shot in such a predicament, so the steps below may play into a contaminated company’s hands.

Maze ransomware automated removal and data recovery

When faced with ransomware like Maze, one of the best shortcuts in terms of removal is to use Combo Cleaner, a lightweight and incredibly effective application with PC security and optimization features under the hood. It detects and thoroughly deletes threats while giving you insights into the overall health of your computer.

This program’s protection power spans modules that forestall all known types of malware, including ransomware and browser hijackers, and take your online security to the next level by blocking phishing sites and other suspicious web pages. Follow these simple steps to eliminate the infection for good:

1. Download Combo Cleaner installer.

Download Maze remover

Combo Cleaner scans your PC with no strings attached, but you’ll have to buy its fully functional version to remove the threats it detects. The disk optimization tools that find large files and duplicates are free to use.

Download and run Combo Cleaner installer on your PC

2. Open the CCSetup.exe file to get started. Several subsequent screens will allow you to make initial customizations so that the program works exactly as you need from the get-go.Setup customizations

3. The installation will be followed by an update of malware signatures. Once this process is through, click the Start Scan button in the left-hand sidebar.Start initial scan

4. Combo Cleaner will then check system locations that are most often polluted by Windows malware. The first scan can take a while to finish.Combo Cleaner scan in progress

5. Combo Cleaner will display a system tray notification as soon as the scan is over. Click the Resolve found threats button to view the results.Scan completed

6. The scan summary shows the names and types of the detected threats as well as their statuses and locations. Click the Remove all threats button and follow further on-screen prompts to get rid of these items.Scan results

Data recovery toolkit to the rescue

Some strains of ransomware are known to delete the original files after the encryption routine has been completed. As hostile as this activity appears, it can play into your hands. There are applications designed to revive the information that was obliterated because of malfunctioning hardware or due to accidental removal. The tool called Stellar Data Recovery features this type of a capability and therefore it can be applied in ransom attack scenarios to at least get the most important files back. So use the app to get an idea of what data can be restored and let it do the recovery job. Here is a step-by-step walkthrough:

1. Download and install Stellar Data Recovery.

Download Stellar Data Recovery

2. Open the application, select the types of recoverable files to look for, and click Next.Stellar Data Recovery main screen

3. Choose the areas you want the tool to recover from and click the Scan button.Select which PC areas to recover from

4. Having scanned the specified locations, the program will display a notification about the total amount of recoverable data. Close the dialog and click the Recover button. This will hopefully help you get some of your valuable files back.Recover files

Maze ransomware manual removal and file recovery

Some ransomware strains terminate themselves after completing the encryption job on a computer, but some don’t. Furthermore, the Maze virus may prevent victims from using popular antimalware tools in order to stay on board for as long as possible. Under the circumstances, it may be necessary to utilize the Safe Mode with Networking or System Restore functionality.

Remove Maze ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Remove Maze ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Get rid of Maze ransomware using System Restore

Get rid of Maze ransomware using System Restore

System Restore enables Windows users to roll back all changes made to the OS since the latest restore point creation time. This feature can help eliminate the most persistent ransomware. Before going this route, though, make sure System Restore had been enabled prior to the breach, otherwise the method will be inefficient.

  • Open Windows Advanced Options Menu as described in the previous section: hit F8 repeatedly when the PC is starting up. Use arrow keys to highlight the Safe Mode with Command Prompt entry. Hit Enter.Safe Mode with Command Prompt
  • In the Command Prompt window, type cd restore and hit Entercd restore command
  • Type rstrui.exe in the new command line and press EnterType rstrui.exe command
  • When the System Restore screen pops up, click Next, select a restore point that predates the contamination, and use the application’s controls to roll back the system to this earlier state.System Restore window
Be advised that even after the ransomware is removed, files will still be encrypted and inaccessible. The malicious code cleanup part, however, is important because it keeps a relapse of the infection from occurring further on and eliminates all opportunistic malware.

Ways of non-ransom recovery of files encrypted by Maze

Cracking the crypto used by this ransom Trojan is more of a science fiction thing rather than an attainable prospect for the masses. This is why the troubleshooting in predicaments of this sort is a matter of two approaches: one is to pay the ransom, which isn’t an option for many victims; and the other is to apply instruments that take advantage of the ransomware’s possible weaknesses. If the latter is your pick, the advice below is a must-try.

Backups can make your day

Backups can make your day

Not only are you a lucky person in case you’ve been backing up your most important files, but you’re also a wise and prudent user. This isn’t necessarily a resource-heavy activity these days – in fact, some providers of online services are allocating a sufficient size of cloud storage space for free so that every customer can easily upload their critical data without paying a penny. Having removed the Maze ransomware, therefore, all you have to do is download your stuff from the remote server or transfer it all from an external piece of hardware if that’s the case.

Restore previous versions of encrypted files

Restore previous versions of encrypted files

A positive upshot of using this technique depends on whether or not the ransomware has erased the Volume Shadow Copies of the files on your PC. This is a Windows feature that automatically makes and keeps the backups of data elements on the hard drive as long as System Restore is enabled. The cryptoware in question is programmed to switch off the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), but it has reportedly failed to in some cases.

Checking one’s options regarding this workaround is doable in two ways: through the Properties menu of each file or by means of the remarkable open-source tool called Shadow Explorer. We recommend the software-based way because it’s automated, hence faster and easier. Just install the app and use its intuitive controls to get previous versions of the encrypted objects reinstated.

Shadow Explorer

Alternatively, you can leverage the Previous Versions feature, which is native to Windows operating system. This method is more cumbersome that the use of ShadowExplorer, but it can help restore the most important individual files on condition that the ransomware failed to disable the Volume Snapshot Service on the computer. Right-click on a file of choice and select Properties. Then, go to the Previous Versions tab as illustrated below.

Previous Versions

Go ahead and pick the file’s latest backup version on the list. Use the Copy or Restore buttons to reinstate this object to a new path or to its original folder, respectively.

Ransomware Prevention Tips

To avoid Maze ransomware and other file-encrypting infections in the future, follow several simple recommendations:

  • Toggle your email provider’s anti-spam settings to filter out all the potentially harmful incoming messages. Raising the bar beyond the default protection is an important countermeasure for ransom Trojans
  • Define specific file extension restrictions in your email system. Make sure that attachments with the following extensions are blacklisted: .js, .vbs, .docm, .hta, .exe, .cmd, .scr, and .bat. Also, treat ZIP archives in received messages with extreme caution
  • Rename the vssadmin.exe process so that ransomware is unable to obliterate all Shadow Volume Copies of your files in one shot
  • Keep your Firewall active at all times. It can prevent crypto ransomware from communicating with its C&C server. This way, the threat won’t be able to obtain cryptographic keys and lock your files
  • Back up your files regularly, at least the most important ones. This recommendation is self-explanatory. A ransomware attack isn’t an issue as long as you keep unaffected copies of your data in a safe place
  • Use an effective antimalware suite. There are security tools that identify ransomware-specific behavior and block the infection before it can do any harm.

These techniques are certainly not a cure-all, but they will add an extra layer of ransomware protection to your security setup.

Revise your security status

Post-factum assessment of the accuracy component in malware removal scenarios is a great habit that prevents the comeback of harmful code or replication of its unattended fractions. Make sure you are good to go by running an additional safety checkup. Another benefit of using the antimalware tool is that it will keep ransomware threats from intruding on your computer further on.

Download Maze removal tool

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