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Spora ransomware decryption and removal

10 min read
Learn the details of Spora ransomware, a new generation threat using efficient infection channels, advanced crypto and a diversified ransom payment service.

When it seemed that the sophistication of ransomware attacks had reached its peak, the ill-minded developers of the new Spora ransomware proved the opposite. This strain was discovered in early January 2017. Researchers who analyzed the obtained samples started emphasizing right away that they’re dealing with an infection crafted by high-profile threat actors, possibly the group that’s behind such extortion monsters as Locky and Cerber. It shortly become obvious that the Spora propagation campaign is well-orchestrated and the code of the perpetrating program itself is professional to the bone. This ransomware encrypts victims’ files in what’s called the autopilot mode. It denotes a mechanism where the pest completes the entire contamination and crypto chain without producing any in- or outbound traffic. Such a technique is a big obstacle for detection with conventional antimalware software.

Spora ransomware note
Spora ransomware note

The Spora ransom Trojan originally targeted users in Russia and a number of other East European states where the Russian operating system localization is common. By January 24, though, the distribution began expanding to other parts of the globe, including the Netherlands, Austria, and more. A plausible explanation of this is that the ransomware authors had conducted some testing and fine-tuning of their baddie before hitting the more traditional locations for online extortion campaigns.

The ransomware in question is deposited on Windows machines through spam waves and exploits. The latter vector engages the RIG-V exploit kit, a notorious malware deployment framework that harnesses software vulnerabilities to inject offending code behind the scenes. The spam-based entry point, in its turn, revolves around fake invoices for the most part. These automatically generated emails carry booby-trapped ZIP attachments with HTA files inside. What’s particularly disconcerting is that the attackers are using a double extension trick to make these malicious HTA objects look like harmless Microsoft Office documents or PDFs. This way, the probability of recipients opening these files grows by far. Further compromise workflow involves JavaScript code that lands into a computer’s Temp path and then fires a random-named executable.

Spora ransomware decryption service called the Client Page
Spora ransomware decryption service called the Client Page

As part of the intrusion, Spora opens a DOCX (Microsoft Word) file that displays an error dialog about file format and extension mismatch. This is a way to distract the victim from what’s happening in the background. Meanwhile, the ransomware scans the local drives and network shares for about 20 types of files, including ones with the .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .pdf, .rtf, .jpg, .jpeg, .rar, .zip, .psd, and .sqlite extension. Items stored in Program Files, Windows and Games folders are ignored – that’s probably because the malefactors need the system running stable. It’s worth mentioning that the infection targets a fairly scarce range of data formats at this point, at least compared to the majority of file-encrypting Trojans in the wild.

Having found the victim’s most important data entries, Spora ransomware leverages a complex fusion of AES and RSA cryptosystems to lock those files down. It does not modify filenames along the way. Then, it displays an HTML ransom note whose name matches a unique 25-character ID assigned to the plagued system. It’s this ID that should be entered in the Personal Area authorization box in the ransom note. Once this is done, the victim will end up on the decryption service titled Client Page (located at spora.bz/spora.biz). To proceed, they are required to synchronize their machine with the malicious system by uploading the .KEY file that was created by the Trojan during the compromise. This synchronization is a completely new thing on the ransomware arena. Its purpose is to allow the service to rate a particular computer in terms of the value of encrypted data. The size of the ransom is a derivative of this routine, so it’s not going to be identical for different victims. The cost of full recovery may range from $79 to about $300, depending on the volume of hostage data and its importance. By the way, the Client Page section called My Purchasings includes alternative, cheaper features such as immunity, removal, file restore, and test recovery of two files.

If confronted with the Spora ransomware, users should commence the troubleshooting from some of the best practices of crypto virus removal and data restoration. The ransom is the last resort rather than the only option – keep that in mind.

Spora ransomware automated removal and data recovery

When faced with ransomware like Spora, 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 Spora 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

Spora 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 Spora 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 Spora ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Remove Spora ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Get rid of Spora ransomware using System Restore

Get rid of Spora 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 files recovery

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 Spora 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 Spora 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.

Spora ransomware evolution

Spora, which is a transliterated Russian word for “spore”, denotes a new generation of crypto ransomware featuring high-profile propagation vectors combined with robust encryption practices. Judging by multiple sophisticated characteristics, this strain was cooked up by a professional online extortion group rather than newbies.

Once the malicious code injection has taken place, this hostile program deploys its complete attack chain without engaging network communication along the way. This capability allows it to fly under the radar of firewalls and security tools. Another adverse trait is its unique, well-orchestrated encryption routine involving several cipher layers.

The infection has gone through a number of distinct tweaks over time. The part below covers a retrospective background of the Spora ransomware as well as the current state of this rampant campaign.

First Spora iteration as a test run

First Spora iteration as a test run

Spora made an appearance on the ransomware arena around January 10, 2017. It was originally distributed within Russia. This is an uncommon thing for present-day crypto menaces – in fact, some of them instantly terminate the onslaught as soon as they detect Russian localization of a victim. Given the technical complexity of this infection, it was obviously made for something bigger than zeroing in on said country and its former Soviet Union allies. These facts suggest that the first wave was a trial of a kind aimed at verifying stability of the threat’s modus operandi.

Malspam distributing the first edition of Spora

This edition arrived at computers with malspam. The rogue emails would be camouflaged as invoices or scan copies of some documents. The attachments were ZIP archives with an HTA file inside. Since the latter had a double extension, the recipient’s operating system would perceive it as a regular benign Word or PDF document. Once opened, the obfuscated HTA object would extract a malicious file named close.js to the machine’s Temp path. This JavaScript item, in its turn, extracts a random-named executable that actually starts deploying the data scrambling routine.

In order to distract a victim from the bad things going on in the background, Spora fires up a .docx file whose content appears to be corrupted. An error dialog pops up to make this trick look more true-to-life.

Trick with corrupted file error

Meanwhile, the ransomware traverses the hard drive and network repositories for data to be encrypted. The original variant of Spora only targeted files with the following extensions: .1cd, .7z, .accdb, .backup, .cd, .cdr, .dbf, .doc, .docx, .dwg, .jpg, .jpeg, .mdb, .odt, .pdf, .psd, .rar, .rtf, .sqlite, .tiff, .xls, .xlsx, and .zip. The pest would skip information stored under Program Files, Windows, and Games directories.

Then, Spora gets down to encryption proper. To this end, it generates RSA and AES key pair for every file, encodes the RSA key with the AES key, encrypts the latter with a separate public key and saves the entirety of this cryptographic information for all the victim’s data to a .KEY file. The perpetrating program adds this file along with the ransom note to the desktop. The name of the HTML recovery how-to matches a user-specific ID string. The contents of this file proper originally looked like this:

HTML ransom note by Spora version 1

Again, the instructions provided in this window are in Russian as far as the first version of the ransomware is concerned. It serves as a login page leading to the Spora decryption service titled the Client Page. To authenticate, the victim is supposed to enter the above-mentioned personal ID in there. Then, they need to synchronize their computer with the linked-to decryption portal. To do this, they must upload their .KEY file that the ransomware had dropped on the desktop.

Spora ‘Client Page’

It was apparent from the very beginning that Spora definitely stood out from the rest due to its sleek and intuitive payment service page. Furthermore, no other ransomware out there employs a multi-layered encryption mechanism like this one does.

Spora version 2: worldwide distribution and unprecedented PR

Spora version 2: worldwide distribution and unprecedented PR

Several major enhancements took root for the Spora ransomware about a month into the campaign. Having conducted extensive testing domestically, its architects began spreading the bad code in places outside Russia. Researchers had predicted this tweak a while back, stating it was merely a matter of time.

Aside from using spam, the crooks have started utilizing exploit kits to deposit the offending program onto computers. The ransom note created by the new variant is in English. Its name still sticks with the following pattern: [victim_ID].html. The unique identifier consists of four groups of hexadecimal characters separated by dashes, with five characters in each group. That’s different from the previous edition, which generated longer IDs composed of five such clusters.

Updated Spora ransom note, still in HTML

Similarly to its predecessor, Spora version 2 does not blemish encrypted files with any extensions. It does not alter filenames either. The range of targeted data formats has been considerably expanded beyond the original set of only 23 types. The encryption process proper did not undergo any noteworthy changes – it’s still as complex, robust and uncrackable as before.

Spora ransom how-to and .KEY file dropped on the desktop

To add insult to injury, the infection has become yet more intelligent in terms of harvesting information and building victim profiles. It breaks one’s files down into six categories based on their potential value for the user. These statistics, along with all the cryptographic details for a specific victim, are included in the .KEY file mentioned above. When the plagued user ends up on the Client Page, they still get a “Synchronization Required” warning.

Synchronization warning on Spora Client Page

Once the [victim_ID].KEY file has been uploaded via this interface, Spora payment portal analyzes the volume and importance of the target’s locked data and automatically calculates the amount of Bitcoin that the user must pay to restore it. The section called “My Purchasings” reflects victim-specific prices for the following services: full restore, immunity, removal, and partial file restore. The immunity feature is interesting. If enabled, it supposedly prevents the same victim from being infected with Spora in the future. Again, the full decryption price varies from case to case. It’s going to be lower for a home user than for an organization whose entire IT network got hit. Overall, the amount may range from $79 to $300.

The look and feel of the updated Client Page

No matter how bizarre it may sound, the latest variant of this ransomware goes with quality customer support. The Tor-protected Client Page includes a “Public Communication” pane, where victims can submit their questions and reviews. In a move never seen before, Spora operators provide ransom discounts for those who give their decryption service a good feedback that will encourage others to pay up with confidence that their data will be restored. Also, some users have reportedly got the payment deadline disabled this way.

Victims’ reviews of the Spora payment service

Clever segmentation of victims’ data, top-notch synchronization with plagued computers, rock-solid encryption in autopilot mode, and responsive customer service – these are all hallmark signs of the Spora ransomware in its current state. What’s next? As its evolution is underway, further changes are imminent. Stay tuned to learn what else to be prepared for.

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 Spora removal tool

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