GoldenEye ransomware virus - removal and decryption options

Also Known As: GoldenEye virus
Damage level: Severe

What kind of malware is GoldenEye?

GoldenEye is combination of Petya and MISCHA ransomware-type viruses. As with Petya and MISCHA, GoldenEye is distributed using a spam email message. The email delivers a fake job offer with text in German and two files attached. One is a fake CV, the other, a malicious MS Excel file.

If the Excel file is opened, a pop-up requesting the user to "enable macros" appears. If these macro commands are enabled, the Excel file will generate an executable file and launch the ransomware.

Screenshot of a skull (created using ASCII Text Art) displayed after encryption:

GoldenEye decrypt instructions

GoldenEye ransomware in detail

MISCHA and Petya differ in that MISCHA only encrypts certain files, while Petya encrypts the hard drive itself (thus, making it impossible to use the computer properly). GoldenEye, however, performs both of these tasks. Pety ransomware was designed to infiltrate computers and attempts to overwrite the system's MBR (Master Boot Record).

To achieve this, Petya must obtain administrative permissions. If the user denies these permissions, the encryption process is ceased. If, however, the permissions are given, Petya modifies the MBR with a custom boot loader.

It then automatically reboots the computer, displays a fake check disk (CHKDSK) screen, encrypts the hard drive in the background, and displays a ransom-demand message using ASCII Text Art. The message is temporarily displayed when booting the computer. MISCHA, on the other hand, does not attempt to modify the MBR - it simply encrypts files.

This behavior is very common to regular ransoware-type viruses. GoldenEye performs these actions in reverse: it encrypts data and only then attempts to modify the MBR, thereby preventing victims from stopping the encryption process (by denying permissions). Following successful encryption, GoldenEye also displays a similar ransom-demand message.

In addition, GoldenEye creates a text file ("YOUR_FILES_ARE_ENCRYPTED.txt") containing an identical message and places it in certain folders (for example, Desktop, My Documents, etc.) Furthermore, GoldenEye appends eight random characters to the name of each encrypted file (for example, "sample.jpg" might be renamed to "sample.jpg.g8k3jmol").

Ransom note overview

The ransom-demand message informs victims of the encryption and demands a ransom payment of 1.31034193 Bitcoins (approximately $1000) for decryption. To submit payment, victims must follow instructions provided on GoldenEye's Tor website (the link is provided within the ransom-demand message).

Note: paying does not guarantee that your files will ever be decrypted. Research shows that cyber criminals often ignore victims despite payments made. Therefore, never attempt to contact these people or pay any ransom.

There are no tools capable of restoring files encrypted by GoldenEye, however, security researchers have developed a tool that decrypts files encrypted by Petya. This situation may change, but for now, users can only resolve this problem by restoring their files/system from a backup. If GoldenEye has modified the system's MBR, restoring from a backup will not be effective.

Ransomware in general

There are hundreds of ransomware-type viruses. Examples include Dharma, CTB-Locker, *.osiris, ASN1, Cerber, and many others. All encrypt files and makes ransom demands. There are just two major differences: 1) size of ransom, and; 2) encryption algorithm [symmetric/asymmetric] used.

Research also shows that these viruses are often distributed using spam emails (malicious attachments), peer-to-peer networks and other third party download sources (freeware download websites, free file hosting websites, etc.), unofficial software download sources, and trojans.

Therefore, be cautious when opening files received from suspicious emails and when downloading software from unofficial sources. Cyber criminals are capable of exploiting software bugs/flaws to infect the system. Therefore, keep your installed applications up-to-date and never use third party update tools. Using a legitimate anti-virus/anti-spyware suite is also essential.

Update 25 July, 2017 - Security researchers from Malwarebytes used a released master key for this ransomware and were able to develop a decrypter. You can read more about it HERE.

GoldenEye ransomware requesting administrative permissions:

GoldenEye asking for admin permissions (sample 1) GoldenEye asking for admin permissions (sample 2)

Screenshot of GoldenEye text file (YOUR_FILES_ARE_ENCRYPTED.txt):

GoldenEye text file

Text presented within GoldenEye text file:

You became victim of the GOLDENEYE RANSOMWARE!
The files on your computer have been encrypted with an military grade encryption algorithm. There is no way to restore your data without a special key. You can purchase this key on the darknet page shown in step 2.
To purchase your key and restore your data, please follow these three easy steps:
1. Download the Tor Browser at "hxxps://www.torproject.org/". If you need help, please google for "access onion page".
2. Visit one of the following pages with the Tor Browser: hxxp://golden5a4eqranh7.onion/oTmqRcKj hxxp://goldeny4vs3nyoht.onion/oTmqRcKj
3. Enter your personal decryption code there: oTmqRcKj6ZvwAsqewqzYz9t8smYzWLaAzsvjQ5YX8JY53FKv5nAHc7W9L4VFnwSGd8Dw4rVi2nfkPGSX39mwCerLst1Tw4vb

Screenshot of an error message displayed before the computer restart:

GoldenEye fake error

Fake CHKDSK displayed during encryption:

GoldenEye faking check disk task

Text presented within this screen:

Repairing file system on C:
The type of the file system in NTFS
One of your disks contains errors and needs to be repaired. This process may take several hours to complete. It is strongly recommended to let it complete.
CHKDSK is repairing sector - of -

Screenshot of a screen displayed after decryption:

GoldenEye screen after encryption

Screenshot of GoldenEye ransom-demand message:

GoldenEye ransom-demanding message

Text presented within this screen:

You became a victim of the GOLDENEYE RANSOMWARE!
The hard disks of your computer have been encrypted with an military grade encryption algorithm. There is no way to restore your data without a special key. You can purchase this key on the darknet page shown in step 2.
To purchase your key and restore your data, please follow these three easy steps:
1. Download the Tor Browser at “hxxps://www.torproject.org/“. If you need help, please google for “access onion page”.
2. Visit one of the following pages with the Tor Browser:
3. Enter your personal decryption code there: -
If you already purchased your key, please enter it below.

Screenshot of GoldenEye website (Payment - Step 1):

GoldenEye website (Payment step 1)

Text presented within this page:

Step 1: Enter your personal identifier
First you have to enter your personal identifier. This code contains important informations for the decryption process. It's important that you enter it exactly like shown on the encrypted computer. The code contains a checksum, which prevents typos and ensures a successfull decryption.
The personal identifier is 96 characters long and can be found in the "YOUR_FILES_ARE_ENCRYPTED.TXT" files, which the ransomware created in several locations (e.g. Desktop, Documents) on your computer.

Screenshot of GoldenEye website (Payment - Step 2):

GoldenEye website (Payment step 2)

Text presented within this page:

Step 2: Purchase Bitcoins
Your decryption key can only be purchased with Bitcoins. Bitcoin is a digital currency which can be exchanged from nearly every normal currency. There are a lot of exchange platforms on the internet, most of them are specialized on a single currency. Today buying bitcoins online is very easy and it's getting simpler every day!
You have to purchase at least the amount shown below. It is recommended to purchase a bit more, to ensure a successfull payment. An extra of 2% should be enough. If you already own enough Bitcoins, you could skip this step.
Demand: 1.31034193 Bitcoins
The following exchanges and marketplaces are recommended:
http://www.bitcoin.de - Bank Wire FAST!
http://www.btcdirect.eu - Sofort Banking, Giropay, Bank Wire, Mastercard and Visa
http://www.localbitcoins.com - Bank Wire and Cash
http://www.coincafe.com - Instant in NYC, Bank Wire and Mail Cash, Bank Wire and Credit Card
Any kind of Bitcoin-Wallet isn't required, you can transfer the purchased bitcoins directly to the payment address. If you want create a wallet anyway, http://www.blockchain.com is recommended.
If you successfull bought the right amount of Bitcoins, click "Next" for the next step.

Screenshot of GoldenEye website (Payment - Step 3):

GoldenEye website (Payment step 3)

Text presented within this page:

Step 3: Do a bitcoin transaction
Now you have to send your purchased Bitcoins to the payment address. If you just purchased Bitcoins on a exchange or marketplace site, look for a section called "Withdraw" and enter the details shown below. If you already own Bitcoins, send the right amount to the payment address shown below, directly from the wallet you use.
If you have any problems with the transaction, feel free to contact our Support.
Address: 1CwCMCS6GUJuz45x1LrqPWAuE41cMK7FtQ
Demand: 1.31034193 Bitcoins
After you made the payment transaction, you have to wait until we manually confirm it. This process usually takes a few hours. In some rare cases some payments need more time to get confirmed. Please refresh this page to see if your payment got confirmed.

Screenshot of GoldenEye website (FAQ):

GoldenEye website (FAQ)

Screenshot of GoldenEye website (Support):

GoldenEye website (Support)

Screenshot of files encrypted by GoldenEye (".[8_random_characters]" extension):

GoldenEye decrypt instructions

GoldenEye ransomware removal:

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced IT skills. Combo Cleaner is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of malware. Download it by clicking the button below:
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Video suggesting what steps should be taken in case of a ransomware infection:

Quick menu:

Reporting ransomware to authorities:

If you are a victim of a ransomware attack we recommend reporting this incident to authorities. By providing information to law enforcement agencies you will help track cybercrime and potentially assist in the prosecution of the attackers. Here's a list of authorities where you should report a ransomware attack. For the complete list of local cybersecurity centers and information on why you should report ransomware attacks, read this article.

List of local authorities where ransomware attacks should be reported (choose one depending on your residence address):

Isolating the infected device:

Some ransomware-type infections are designed to encrypt files within external storage devices, infect them, and even spread throughout the entire local network. For this reason, it is very important to isolate the infected device (computer) as soon as possible.

Step 1: Disconnect from the internet.

The easiest way to disconnect a computer from the internet is to unplug the Ethernet cable from the motherboard, however, some devices are connected via a wireless network and for some users (especially those who are not particularly tech-savvy), disconnecting cables may seem troublesome. Therefore, you can also disconnect the system manually via Control Panel:

Navigate to the "Control Panel", click the search bar in the upper-right corner of the screen, enter "Network and Sharing Center" and select search result: Disconnecting computer from the Internet (step 1)

Click the "Change adapter settings" option in the upper-left corner of the window: Disconnecting computer from the Internet (step 2)

Right-click on each connection point and select "Disable". Once disabled, the system will no longer be connected to the internet. To re-enable the connection points, simply right-click again and select "Enable". Disconnecting computer from the Internet (step 3)

Step 2: Unplug all storage devices.

As mentioned above, ransomware might encrypt data and infiltrate all storage devices that are connected to the computer. For this reason, all external storage devices (flash drives, portable hard drives, etc.) should be disconnected immediately, however, we strongly advise you to eject each device before disconnecting to prevent data corruption:

Navigate to "My Computer", right-click on each connected device, and select "Eject": Ejecting external storage devices

Step 3: Log-out of cloud storage accounts.

Some ransomware-type might be able to hijack software that handles data stored within "the Cloud". Therefore, the data could be corrupted/encrypted. For this reason, you should log-out of all cloud storage accounts within browsers and other related software. You should also consider temporarily uninstalling the cloud-management software until the infection is completely removed.

Identify the ransomware infection:

To properly handle an infection, one must first identify it. Some ransomware infections use ransom-demand messages as an introduction (see the WALDO ransomware text file below).

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 1)

This, however, is rare. In most cases, ransomware infections deliver more direct messages simply stating that data is encrypted and that victims must pay some sort of ransom. Note that ransomware-type infections typically generate messages with different file names (for example, "_readme.txt", "READ-ME.txt", "DECRYPTION_INSTRUCTIONS.txt", "DECRYPT_FILES.html", etc.). Therefore, using the name of a ransom message may seem like a good way to identify the infection. The problem is that most of these names are generic and some infections use the same names, even though the delivered messages are different and the infections themselves are unrelated. Therefore, using the message filename alone can be ineffective and even lead to permanent data loss (for example, by attempting to decrypt data using tools designed for different ransomware infections, users are likely to end up permanently damaging files and decryption will no longer be possible even with the correct tool).

Another way to identify a ransomware infection is to check the file extension, which is appended to each encrypted file. Ransomware infections are often named by the extensions they append (see files encrypted by Qewe ransomware below).

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 2)

This method is only effective, however, when the appended extension is unique - many ransomware infections append a generic extension (for example, ".encrypted", ".enc", ".crypted", ".locked", etc.). In these cases, identifying ransomware by its appended extension becomes impossible.

One of the easiest and quickest ways to identify a ransomware infection is to use the ID Ransomware website. This service supports most existing ransomware infections. Victims simply upload a ransom message and/or one encrypted file (we advise you to upload both if possible).

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 3)

The ransomware will be identified within seconds and you will be provided with various details, such as the name of the malware family to which the infection belongs, whether it is decryptable, and so on.

Example 1 (Qewe [Stop/Djvu] ransomware):

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 4)

Example 2 (.iso [Phobos] ransomware):

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 5)

If your data happens to be encrypted by ransomware that is not supported by ID Ransomware, you can always try searching the internet by using certain keywords (for example, a ransom message title, file extension, provided contact emails, crypto wallet addresses, etc.).

Search for ransomware decryption tools:

Encryption algorithms used by most ransomware-type infections are extremely sophisticated and, if the encryption is performed properly, only the developer is capable of restoring data. This is because decryption requires a specific key, which is generated during the encryption. Restoring data without the key is impossible. In most cases, cybercriminals store keys on a remote server, rather than using the infected machine as a host. Dharma (CrySis), Phobos, and other families of high-end ransomware infections are virtually flawless, and thus restoring data encrypted without the developers' involvement is simply impossible. Despite this, there are dozens of ransomware-type infections that are poorly developed and contain a number of flaws (for example, the use of identical encryption/decryption keys for each victim, keys stored locally, etc.). Therefore, always check for available decryption tools for any ransomware that infiltrates your computer.

Finding the correct decryption tool on the internet can be very frustrating. For this reason, we recommend that you use the No More Ransom Project and this is where identifying the ransomware infection is useful. The No More Ransom Project website contains a "Decryption Tools" section with a search bar. Enter the name of the identified ransomware, and all available decryptors (if there are any) will be listed.

Searching for ransomware decryption tools in nomoreransom.org website

Restore files with data recovery tools:

Depending on the situation (quality of ransomware infection, type of encryption algorithm used, etc.), restoring data with certain third-party tools might be possible. Therefore, we advise you to use the Recuva tool developed by CCleaner. This tool supports over a thousand data types (graphics, video, audio, documents, etc.) and it is very intuitive (little knowledge is necessary to recover data). In addition, the recovery feature is completely free.

Step 1: Perform a scan.

Run the Recuva application and follow the wizard. You will be prompted with several windows allowing you to choose what file types to look for, which locations should be scanned, etc. All you need to do is select the options you're looking for and start the scan. We advise you to enable the "Deep Scan" before starting, otherwise, the application's scanning capabilities will be restricted.

Recuva data recovery tool wizard

Wait for Recuva to complete the scan. The scanning duration depends on the volume of files (both in quantity and size) that you are scanning (for example, several hundred gigabytes could take over an hour to scan). Therefore, be patient during the scanning process. We also advise against modifying or deleting existing files, since this might interfere with the scan. If you add additional data (for example, downloading files/content) while scanning, this will prolong the process:

Recuva data recovery tool scan time

Step 2: Recover data.

Once the process is complete, select the folders/files you wish to restore and simply click "Recover". Note that some free space on your storage drive is necessary to restore data:

Recuva data recovery tool recovering data

Create data backups:

Proper file management and creating backups is essential for data security. Therefore, always be very careful and think ahead.

Partition management: We recommend that you store your data in multiple partitions and avoid storing important files within the partition that contains the entire operating system. If you fall into a situation whereby you cannot boot the system and are forced to format the disk on which the operating system is installed (in most cases, this is where malware infections hide), you will lose all data stored within that drive. This is the advantage of having multiple partitions: if you have the entire storage device assigned to a single partition, you will be forced to delete everything, however, creating multiple partitions and allocating the data properly allows you to prevent such problems. You can easily format a single partition without affecting the others - therefore, one will be cleaned and the others will remain untouched, and your data will be saved. Managing partitions is quite simple and you can find all the necessary information on Microsoft's documentation web page.

Data backups: One of the most reliable backup methods is to use an external storage device and keep it unplugged. Copy your data to an external hard drive, flash (thumb) drive, SSD, HDD, or any other storage device, unplug it and store it in a dry place away from the sun and extreme temperatures. This method is, however, quite inefficient, since data backups and updates need to be made regularly. You can also use a cloud service or remote server. Here, an internet connection is required and there is always the chance of a security breach, although it's a really rare occasion.

We recommend using Microsoft OneDrive for backing up your files. OneDrive lets you store your personal files and data in the cloud, sync files across computers and mobile devices, allowing you to access and edit your files from all of your Windows devices. OneDrive lets you save, share and preview files, access download history, move, delete, and rename files, as well as create new folders, and much more.

You can back up your most important folders and files on your PC (your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders). Some of OneDrive’s more notable features include file versioning, which keeps older versions of files for up to 30 days. OneDrive features a recycling bin in which all of your deleted files are stored for a limited time. Deleted files are not counted as part of the user’s allocation.

The service is built using HTML5 technologies and allows you to upload files up to 300 MB via drag and drop into the web browser or up to 10 GB via the OneDrive desktop application. With OneDrive, you can download entire folders as a single ZIP file with up to 10,000 files, although it can’t exceed 15 GB per single download.

OneDrive comes with 5 GB of free storage out of the box, with an additional 100 GB, 1 TB, and 6 TB storage options available for a subscription-based fee. You can get one of these storage plans by either purchasing additional storage separately or with Office 365 subscription.

Creating a data backup:

The backup process is the same for all file types and folders. Here’s how you can back up your files using Microsoft OneDrive

Step 1: Choose the files/folders you want to backup.

Click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar

Click the OneDrive cloud icon to open the OneDrive menu. While in this menu, you can customize your file backup settings.

Select Help & Settings and click Settings

Click Help & Settings and then select Settings from the drop-down menu.

Select the Backup tab and click Manage backup

Go to the Backup tab and click Manage backup.

Select folders to backup and click Start backup

In this menu, you can choose to backup the Desktop and all of the files on it, and Documents and Pictures folders, again, with all of the files in them. Click Start backup.

Now, when you add a file or folder in the Desktop and Documents and Pictures folders, they will be automatically backed up on OneDrive.

To add folders and files, not in the locations shown above, you have to add them manually.

Select a file manually and copy it

Open File Explorer and navigate to the location of the folder/file you want to backup. Select the item, right-click it, and click Copy.

Paste the copied file in the OneDrive folder to create a backup

Then, navigate to OneDrive, right-click anywhere in the window and click Paste. Alternatively, you can just drag and drop a file into OneDrive. OneDrive will automatically create a backup of the folder/file.

File statuses in OneDrive folder

All of the files added to the OneDrive folder are backed up in the cloud automatically. The green circle with the checkmark in it indicates that the file is available both locally and on OneDrive and that the file version is the same on both. The blue cloud icon indicates that the file has not been synced and is available only on OneDrive. The sync icon indicates that the file is currently syncing.

Click Help & Settings and click View Online

To access files only located on OneDrive online, go to the Help & Settings drop-down menu and select View online.

Click the Settings cog and click Options

Step 2: Restore corrupted files.

OneDrive makes sure that the files stay in sync, so the version of the file on the computer is the same version on the cloud. However, if ransomware has encrypted your files, you can take advantage of OneDrive’s Version history feature that will allow you to restore the file versions prior to encryption.

Microsoft 365 has a ransomware detection feature that notifies you when your OneDrive files have been attacked and guide you through the process of restoring your files. It must be noted, however, that if you don’t have a paid Microsoft 365 subscription, you only get one detection and file recovery for free.

If your OneDrive files get deleted, corrupted, or infected by malware, you can restore your entire OneDrive to a previous state. Here’s how you can restore your entire OneDrive:


1. If you're signed in with a personal account, click the Settings cog at the top of the page. Then, click Options and select Restore your OneDrive.

If you're signed in with a work or school account,  click the Settings cog at the top of the page. Then, click Restore your OneDrive.

2. On the Restore your OneDrive page, select a date from the drop-down list. Note that if you're restoring your files after automatic ransomware detection, a restore date will be selected for you.

3. After configuring all of the file restoration options, click Restore to undo all the activities you selected.

The best way to avoid damage from ransomware infections is to maintain regular up-to-date backups.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How was my computer hacked and how did hackers encrypt my files?

Threat actors use different methods to trick users into infecting their computers with ransomware. Most of them send emails containing malicious attachments or links or use fake installers for cracked software. Also, ransomware can infect computers via files downloaded from untrustworthy sources, fake updaters, and Trojans.

How to open encrypted files?

Ransomware victims cannot open encrypted files until those files are decrypted with the right tool.

Where should I look for free decryption tools for GoldenEye ransomware?

In case of a ransomware attack you should check the No More Ransom project website (more information above).

I can pay you a lot of money, can you decrypt files for me?

We do not provide a decryption service. Third parties offering to decrypt files for money cannot be trusted. Typically, they attempt to scam victims or act as a man-in-the-middle. Victims are forced to pay the attackers unless ransomware is flawed.

Will Combo Cleaner help me remove GoldenEye ransomware?

Yes, Combo Cleaner will run a system scan and get rid of ransomware. Using antivirus software for ransomware removal prevents more damage. However, security software is not capable of decrypting encrypted files.

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About the author:

Tomas Meskauskas

Tomas Meskauskas - expert security researcher, professional malware analyst.

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of over 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an author and editor for pcrisk.com since 2010. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay informed about the latest online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

PCrisk security portal is brought by a company RCS LT. Joined forces of security researchers help educate computer users about the latest online security threats. More information about the company RCS LT.

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Malware activity

Global malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

Increased attack rate of infections detected within the last 24 hours.

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