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Texas ransomware attack in August 2019: what to do if you are infected?

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More and more towns around the world are dealing with targeted ransomware raids, 23 local governments in Texas being the latest victims of cybercriminals.
  1. The August 2019 Texas ransomware attack – what’s known at this point?
  2. What to do if you are infected? Automated ransomware removal and recovery
  3. Manual ransomware removal and file recovery
  4. Ransomware Prevention Tips


The August 2019 Texas ransomware attack – what’s known at this point?

The ransomware epidemic had been wreaking electronic havoc indiscriminately until around 2017, zeroing in on both end users and large IT networks. Then, the era of “mainstream” crypto viruses started to slowly succumb to an attack vector where crooks focused on specific targets. The reasons for this evolutionary shift are vague – some argue it occurred because Bitcoin price took a nosedive, while others believe the security awareness of regular users grew and they got better at identifying and recovering from such onslaughts. One way or another, today’s dominating trend is no longer about trying to catch small fish in a big pond. Instead, the extortionists are going after businesses and even government entities, as is the case with the latest cyber disaster suffered by nearly two dozen towns in the State of Texas. This incursion reportedly took root on August 16, 2019, and the remediation of the damage is still a work in progress at the time of this writing.

Texas ransomware attack affected 23 towns in the state
Texas ransomware attack affected 23 towns in the state

According to the Texas Department of Information Resources, the incident made itself felt Friday morning. An unidentified strain of data-encrypting ransomware contaminated the digital infrastructure of 23 government entities across the state. Oddly enough, the predicament took place simultaneously throughout the entirety of targets, which suggests that the harmful payloads might have been deposited into the systems earlier and then got triggered by threat actors remotely. The officials involved in the investigation have since claimed that the adversary behind each instance was the same. This appears to be a reasonable statement, given the strictly coordinated essence of the compromise. Meanwhile, the list of specific municipalities that got on the crooks’ hook hasn’t been disclosed – that’s most likely a precaution aimed at preventing these towns’ digital networks from being regarded as low hanging fruit in the future. The good news is that the systems of the State of Texas have not been impacted.

Greg Abbott, the state governor, has initiated the “Level 2 Escalated Response” in regards to the issue. Technically, this is only one level below the most severe “emergency” alert in the areas affected. Texas has since requested assistance from a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The experts are currently investigating the matter and looking for ways to get the malware-riddled systems up and running.

Whereas the family of ransomware that struck the smaller governments in Texas last weekend is unknown (or is being deliberately kept beyond publicity), a few samples that are known to have been involved in similar incidents in the past are SamSam and Ryuk. The common methods of distribution of the malicious code in such scenarios span phishing emails, exploit kits, and remote desktop service (RDP) hacks. Once a single computer on a network is infiltrated, the ransomware will spread laterally across the host environment, or in some cases will exhibit worm-like behavior to replicate itself and thus expand the attack surface. Having propagated to most machines within the host network, the culprit will start a scan for valuable data and will then encrypt it using symmetric or asymmetric (public key) cryptosystem. When done, it may or may not append a peculiar extension to every hostage file. Finally, the predatory program will display a ransom note asking for Bitcoin or other type of cryptocurrency for the secret decryption key and the recovery tool.

There continue to be plenty of unanswered questions about Texas ransomware attack. The community isn’t aware of the type of ransom Trojan that caused the mayhem, nor is there any update regarding the data restoration progress. It’s unclear either whether the infected entities have redeemed their proprietary information by paying the ransom. The fact remains, though, that ransomware is still a hugely disconcerting phenomenon even governments cannot be properly protected against.


What to do if you are infected? Automated ransomware removal and recovery

Owing to an up-to-date database of malware signatures and intelligent behavioral detection, the recommended software can quickly locate the infection, eradicate it and remediate all harmful changes. So go ahead and do the following:

1. Download and install the antimalware tool. Open the solution and have it check your PC for PUPs and other types of malicious software by clicking the Start Computer Scan button

Download ransomware infections remover

2. Rest assured the scan report will list all items that may harm your operating system. Select the detected entries and click Fix Threats to get the troubleshooting completed.

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 Data Recovery Pro by ParetoLogic features this type of capability therefore it can be applied in ransom attack scenarios to at least get the most important files back. So download and install the program, run a scan and let it do its job.

Download Data Recovery Pro

Data Recovery Pro


Manual ransomware removal and file recovery

Some ransomware strains terminate themselves after completing the encryption job on a computer, but some don’t. Furthermore, the 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 the ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Remove the ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Boot into Safe Mode with Networking. The method to do it depends on the version of the infected operating system. Follow the instructions below for your OS build.

  • Restart the machine. When the system begins loading back up, keep pressing the F8 key with short intervals. The Windows Advanced Options Menu (Advanced Boot Options) screen will appear.Boot into Safe Mode with Networking on Windows Vista and 7
  • Use arrow keys to select Safe Mode with Networking and hit Enter. Log on with the user account infected by the ransomware.
  • Click on the Search icon next to the Start menu button. Type msconfig in the search field and select the System Configuration option in the results. Go to the Boot tab in the upper part of the GUI.Boot options on Windows 8, 8.1 and 10
  • Under Boot options, select Safe boot and click the Apply button. A prompt will appear to reboot the computer so that the changes take effect. Select the Restart option and wait for the system to load into Safe Mode. Again, log on with the ransomware-stricken user account.

In Safe Mode, the ransom Trojan won’t keep security software from running or otherwise thwart troubleshooting. Open your preferred web browser, download and install an antimalware tool of choice and start a full system scan. Have all the detected ransomware components removed in a hassle-free way.

Get rid of the ransomware using System Restore

Get rid of the 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 data 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 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 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.

Give your security posture a boost

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.

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