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Decrypt .phoenix files virus: Phoenix-Phobos ransomware removal

7 min read
A new variant of the Phobos ransomware is out that adds the .phoenix extension to encrypted files, so here’s how to take care of the issue in case of infection.
  1. What is the Phoenix ransomware?
  2. Phoenix ransomware automated removal and data recovery
  3. Phoenix ransomware manual removal and file recovery
  4. Ransomware Prevention Tips

What is the Phoenix ransomware?

Computer users who fall victim to ransomware primarily pay attention to the most conspicuous symptoms of the attack and refer to the strain based on these telltale signs. That’s typically the peculiar extension concatenated to filenames, the ransom notes, or inscriptions on a desktop background alert if any. How about the sample dubbed Phoenix ransomware, which has been wreaking havoc since mid-April 2019? The denomination in this scenario is an extension derivative as the culprit appends the .phoenix suffix to every hostage file. Those who take a deeper dive into the attack attributes will discover that this specimen is actually a spinoff of the Phobos ransomware whose activity has been numerous users’ headache for about three months now. In fact, the ransom manual named info.hta indicates the parental malware name in the open.

Files with the .phoenix extension encrypted by Phoenix variant of the Phobos ransomware
Files with the .phoenix extension encrypted by Phoenix variant of the Phobos ransomware

The Phoenix edition of Phobos ransomware treats filenames similarly to the way the notorious CrySiS lineage does. It subjoins a fairly long string to each one in the following format: Sample.docx.id[xxxxxxx-7777].[absonkaine@aol.com].phoenix. The segments in brackets include the victim’s unique ID, plus the attacker’s contact email address. These external tweaks of the affected data items are a trifle compared to the skewing that takes place at a deep structure level. The ransom Trojan utilizes a strong cryptographic algorithm, namely the public-key RSA standard, to lock down every valuable file so that the victim cannot access it. Speaking of which, the Phoenix ransomware isn’t likely to skip anything that matters to the user, because it thoroughly scours the plagued machine’s hard drive and removable media, if inserted, in search of data whose format matches the predefined range. As a result, the vast majority of the personal information ends up encrypted and inaccessible.

Info.hta ransom manual created by Phoenix ransomware
Info.hta ransom manual created by Phoenix ransomware

Looking at the modified filenames, it seems that the appended details suffice to reach out to the criminals and find out what they want in exchange for the malicious recovery service. However, there are special files that the Phoenix ransomware drops onto the computer, with many more nuances being covered therein. These are ransom notes, and they come in two different forms. One is named info.hta, and the other is info.txt. The former lets the victim know what exactly has happened and instructs them to shoot a message to absonkaine@aol.com. In the email, the user is supposed to insert the identifier string assigned to them. The manual also includes alternative ways to contact the perpetrators in case the user doesn’t hear from them within 24 hours after the original message is sent. The malefactors’ extra email address is klemens.stobe@aol.com, and their Jabber account is phobos_helper@xmpp.jp. In response, they will send the precise size of the ransom in Bitcoin along with the BTC address to submit it. To prove that the deal is real, the attackers offer free decryption of up to five non-important files.

So much for the extortion workflow. Regarding the intrusion of the Phoenix ransomware, the tactics haven’t changed since the previous Phobos release. It still comes down to the use of RDP (remote desktop protocol) rather than malicious spam. The black hats have been mass-scanning the web for hosts with open or poorly secured RDP connections. Then, they try to exploit these services to gain remote access to the vulnerable machines. This allows Phoenix operators to deposit their nasty payload onto systems manually without raising any red flags whatsoever. If this part of the attack chain succeeds, the rest of it is a technicality because the harmful binary simply invokes pre-configured commands in an autonomous way and deploys the extortion. All in all, this ransomware is a serious concern and it should be treated accordingly. Before entering any negotiation with the adversaries, be sure to try all the techniques below and see if anything can be restored without paying the ransom.

Phoenix ransomware automated removal and data recovery

When faced with ransomware like Phoenix, 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 Phoenix 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

Phoenix 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 Phoenix 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 Phoenix ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Remove Phoenix ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Get rid of Phoenix ransomware using System Restore

Get rid of Phoenix 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 .phoenix files

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 Phoenix 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 Phoenix 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 Phoenix removal tool

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