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Decrypt .zzzzz files and remove Locky/ZZZZZ ransomware virus

6 min read
Stay on top of the Locky ransomware epidemic, learn what characteristics its new ZZZZZ variant has under the hood and try to restore encrypted .zzzzz files.

The temporarily dominant Aesir version of the Locky ransomware has recently passed the baton to a new build called ZZZZZ. While sharing many traits with its antecedent, it stands out from the pack as a standalone version. The newcomer exhibits a different take on tweaking victims’ files and creates a distinctive combo of documents that provide a recovery avenue. The most prominent change circles around the .zzzzz file extension being added to all the encrypted entries. The ransomware also prepends this extension with hexadecimal characters that have nothing in common with the original filenames. The upshot of this compromise, therefore, is that the ZZZZZ virus encrypts all important files on a computer, replaces their names with unidentifiable strings, and creates the -INSTRUCTION.html (.bmp) ransom notes to explain what should be done for data restoration.

The ZZZZZ ransomware predicament
The ZZZZZ ransomware predicament

ZZZZZ sneaks its way into Windows machines by means of phishing. This isn’t the most advanced propagation vector imaginable, but its success rate is consistently high. What happens is, people receive emails with malicious attachments. The cybercrooks tend to deploy multiple different spam themes concurrently. Most of these auto-generated emails pretend to be deliver invoices, scanned documents from office, bills, insufficient payment details, resignation letters, and spam mailout logs. The attachments are mainly ZIP archives that contain VBScript or JavaScript files. Furthermore, a new hoax is underway on Facebook, where users receive phony photos in .SVG format. It’s advised to stay away from messages like that and never open the enclosed files.

On infiltrating a PC, the ZZZZZ ransomware first determines if the system interface language is Russian – if so, the attack won’t continue. Otherwise, it moves on by running a scan for data. The infection targets popular types of files, including but not limited to Microsoft Office documents, images, videos and databases. Meanwhile, it ignores executables so that the system can operate smoothly and allows the victim to follow the black hat hackers’ demands. ZZZZZ uses two cryptographic algorithms – RSA-2048 and AES-128 – to lock down every detected item.

Ransom note by the ZZZZZ virus
Ransom note by the ZZZZZ virus

By adding the -INSTRUCTION.html and -INSTRUCTION.bmp ransom help files to the desktop and encrypted directories, the ransomware clarifies the details of the mishap to the victim. The user is told to visit an online resource called Locky Decryptor page via Tor Browser, which ensures anonymity of this interaction. Then, the infected person finds out that they can redeem their files by submitting 0.5 Bitcoin to the attacker. Be advised, however, that victims who paid up never got their decryption key and automatic decryptor in many cases, so it’s not the best idea to opt for the ransom right away. Of course, the circumstances may vary. A while ago, a piece of ransomware attacked a healthcare company and encoded critical data on its servers, including patients’ records. This is one of the examples where it might make sense to choose the lesser of two evils. If you are an individual user, though, try the steps below first.

ZZZZZ ransomware automated removal and data recovery

When dealing with the ZZZZZ threat, you can get a lot of mileage out of the Malwarebytes automatic security tool that will pinpoint and iron out the infection in minutes. Malwarebytes is one of the big names in the anti-malware industry with an immaculate track record of protecting systems against all prevalent forms of harmful code.

The solution uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to detect both known and zero-day threats, including potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), ransomware, exploits, and malicious sites. It boasts low system footprint, high scanning speed, and intuitive interface where every module clearly explains what it does. Follow the steps below to come through the malware predicament unscathed:

1. Download and install the latest version of Malwarebytes onto your PC.

As part of this step, you will be prompted to specify where you are installing the program (personal or work computer) and toggle the advanced setup options if you so desire. You can use all the premium features for 14 days free of charge.

Download ZZZZZ virus remover

2. Once the application is up and running, go ahead and click on the Scan button in the bottom middle part of the GUI.Click the Scan button

3. Wait until Malwarebytes checks for updates of its proprietary Katana detection engine and scans the memory, startup items, registry, and file system for threats.Malwarebytes scan in progress

4. When the scan is completed, go over the report listing the infections that have been identified. Make sure there are checkmarks next to all the unwanted items and click on the Quarantine button as shown below.Malwarebytes scan results

5. You will be prompted to restart your computer to finish the removal process. Click Yes to do it immediately or close the dialog and restart later on.Restart to complete the removal process

6. As soon as the threats have been moved to Quarantine, they can no longer harm your computer. If you are sure that you won’t need to restore any of those items at a later point, click on the Detection History pane at the bottom left of the Malwarebytes home screen, select the Quarantined items tab, and click Delete.Delete quarantined items

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

ZZZZZ 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 ZZZZZ 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 ZZZZZ ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Remove ZZZZZ ransomware using Safe Mode with Networking

Get rid of ZZZZZ ransomware using System Restore

Get rid of ZZZZZ 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 .zzzzz 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 ZZZZZ 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 ZZZZZ 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 ZZZZZ ransomware removal tool

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