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Phobos ransomware decryptor and virus removal

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Find out the essential characteristics of the new Phobos ransomware, including its malicious roots, and learn how to remove it and decrypt locked-down files.

If it works, don’t touch it – that’s probably the rule of thumb for the authors of the Phobos ransomware, a file-encrypting infection that splashed onto the scene in late January 2019. The above speculation has got some solid reasoning behind it, given that the crypto virus under scrutiny bears a strong resemblance to one of the oldies on the arena of malware-based extortion. The likely prototype is referred to as Dharma, or CrySiS. This strain has been up and running for years, and it is regularly spewing out abominable offspring. While the Phobos pest has got a bit of uniqueness under the hood, its code and graphical elements are very similar to Dharma’s. All in all, there is currently some ambiguity in regards to the classification of this wicked entity.

Dharma-style ransom note dropped by the Phobos ransomware
Dharma-style ransom note dropped by the Phobos ransomware

One of the hallmarks that makes the Phobos ransomware stand out from the probable kinship is the extension appended to hostage files. It comes in the following format: Original Filename.id-{victim ID}.[raphaeldupon@aol.com].btc. Be advised that the email section is variable, which simply suggests that the culprit is being distributed by different “affiliates” who teamed up with the malware developers under the umbrella of one RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service).

The first thing this cyber leech does after contaminating a Windows computer is a thorough search for potentially valuable data. Its lookup algorithm is trivial, yet effective. There is a list of extensions to look for that match the most common types of personal information. As a result, the baddie finds the overwhelming majority of important files on the hard disk, portable drives that might be plugged in, as well as network drives. The next stage is all about cryptography, where the Phobos virus employs the uncrackable asymmetric RSA cipher to make the files inaccessible.

FILES ENCRYPTED.txt copy of the ransom message
FILES ENCRYPTED.txt copy of the ransom message

The final strokes of the attack boil down to dropping a series of ransom notes. There are two variants thereof. One is an HTA (HTML Application) file that manifests itself as a window that splashes up automatically. The other is a document named FILES ENCRYPTED.txt. It looks primitive compared to the counterpart, but it still reflects the basic details on what happened and what the victim is supposed to do.

The main instruction explicated in these notes is to send the above-mentioned ID to raphaeldupon@aol.com, or whatever email address listed there and embedded in every crippled file’s name. The extra “offer” to decrypt one file for free as proof of viable recovery is certainly not very soothing, moreover, the file must not contain any information that has value to the victim. The extortionists’ response will include their Bitcoin address and the amount of cryptocurrency they expect to get in exchange for the decryption tool. That’s usually 0.1-0.5 BTC, depending on how high-profile the victim is, for instance, whether it’s an organization or a home user that got infected.

This whole turmoil is preceded by a contamination that’s both simple and complex at the same time. Just like the Dharma/CrySiS threat, the Phobos ransomware is circulating over RDP, that is, Remote Desktop Protocol. Those who use this type of services on their machines are most susceptible to the attack, especially if the RDP credentials are default or weak enough for the crooks to brute-force them successfully. Such a spreading vector allows the adversary to gain access on the host with hardly any limitations and execute the malicious binary in a manual way. It’s difficult to think of a bigger motivation for users to secure their remote services properly.

Anyway, if Phobos – which is, by the way, the embodiment of fear in Greek mythology – has encrypted all important files on your computer, be sure to start tackling the issue with the following steps.

Phobos ransomware automated removal and data recovery

When faced with ransomware like Phobos, 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 Phobos 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

Phobos 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 Phobos 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 Phobos ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Remove Phobos ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Get rid of Phobos ransomware using System Restore

Get rid of Phobos 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 .btc files encrypted by Phobos ransomware

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 Phobos 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 Phobos 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 Phobos removal tool

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