Product Key Has Expired Scam

Also Known As: "Product Key Has Expired" virus
Damage level: Severe

"Product Key Has Expired" virus removal guide

What is "Product Key Has Expired"?

First discovered by malware security researcher, Karsten Hahn, "Product Key Has Expired" is a fake screen-locking error message stating that the system key has expired. This screen-locker has an official 'builder', which allows prospective cyber criminals to modify settings to create variants of this scam. Screen-lockers such as "Product Key Has Expired" are commonly proliferated using potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), fake software cracks, and other infected downloads.

Product Key Has Expired scam

As mentioned above, this scam error locks the computer screen and displays a message stating that the system activation key has expired. To receive this key and re-activate the system victims are encouraged to take a survey. This behavior is unusual to scam errors. In most cases, they encourage users to contact criminals claiming to be 'certified computer technicians' who can supposedly resolve various issues (remove malware, activate the system, etc.) In this case, however, criminals generate revenue by demanding that users complete online surveys. As mentioned, "Product Key Has Expired" has a builder, a tool that allows criminals to modify settings such as the survey URL and activation key. Advanced settings allow them to disable the System Restore, Task Manager, and Command Prompt (CMD) functions. There is also an option that allows the screen-locker to run on system start-up. Therefore, removing the lock screen becomes much more problematic. Nevertheless, we strongly advise users to ignore this error message. Its claims are false - criminals generate revenue by scaring and tricking users into complying. Note that completing online surveys can lead to serious privacy issues or even identity theft.

Threat Summary:
Name"Product Key Has Expired" virus
Threat TypeRansomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker
SymptomsCan't open files stored on your computer, previously functional files now have a different extension, for example my.docx.locked. A ransom demanding message is displayed on your desktop. Cyber criminals are asking to pay a ransom (usually in bitcoins) to unlock your files.
Distribution methodsInfected email attachments (macros), torrent websites, malicious ads.
DamageAll files are encrypted and cannot be opened without paying a ransom. Additional password stealing trojans and malware infections can be installed together with a ransomware infection.
Malware Removal (Windows)

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"Product Key Has Expired" shares many similarities with Notice From Microsoft Corporation, Your Computer is locked !, Your Windows has been blocked, and many other fake errors. All claim that the system is damaged (missing files, infected, expired, etc.), however, this rogue software is designed only to extort money from victims. Therefore, ignore fake errors. PUPs are also virtually identical - most offer various "useful features", however, they deliver no significant value for regular users. The only purpose of PUPs is to generate revenue for the developers. They deliver intrusive ads (via the "Pay Per Click" advertising model) and record user-system information. Some also promote deceptive websites - mostly fake search engines that generate bogus results, deliver ads, and record information. Note that false search engines and intrusive ads can lead to malicious websites. For these reasons, fake search engines pose a direct threat to your privacy and Internet browsing safety.

How did potentially unwanted programs install on my computer?

Cyber criminals proliferate PUPs via intrusive ads, and a deceptive marketing method called "bundling". They are aware that users often rush the download/installation processes and skip steps. Therefore, they hide bundled apps within the "Custom/Advanced" settings. Rushing these processes and clicking ads often leads to inadvertent installation of rogue programs. This also exposes systems to risk of various infections and compromises users' privacy.

How to avoid installation of potentially unwanted applications?

Lack of knowledge and careless behavior are the main reasons for computer infections. Therefore, be cautious when browsing the Internet and especially when downloading/installing software. Never click ads, since cyber criminals put a great deal of time and effort into making them appear genuine. It is, thus, virtually impossible to determine if they originate from visited websites. No matter how tempting the ads may seem, do not take the risk of clicking them. Download your software from official sources only and (if possible) choose a direct download link rather than third party downloaders/installers. Most of these tools "bundle" apps. Therefore, using them is very risky. In addition, carefully analyze each download/installation step (using the "Custom" or "Advanced" settings) and decline offers to download/install additional programs. The key to computer safety is caution.

Text presented within "Product Key Has Expired" screenlocker:

Your Computer Has Been Locked
Windows has detected that you are using an invalid Product Key, or your Product Key has expired.
In order to unlock your computer, you must fill out a free survey to obtain the password.
After doing so, you may enter the password in the field below to reactivite your Windows Product Key!

Screenshot of a survey window of "Product Key Has Expired" screen-locker (pcrisk.com URL is entered as an example):

Product Key Has Expired survey

Text presented within this survey:

Instructions: Complete the survey by following the instructions provided below. After completion, when prompted to download the file, choose ‘Open’ and read the password from the file. Enter it to revalidate your Product Key! Survey not working? Try filling it out on a different computer using the link provided on the main form.

Screenshot of the builder ("Laser Locker") used to modify the settings of "Product Key Has Expired" screen-locker:

 Product Key Has Expired builder

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Quick menu:

"Product Key Has Expired" virus removal:

Step 1

Windows XP and Windows 7 users: Start your computer in Safe Mode. Click Start, click Shut Down, click Restart, click OK. During your computer starting process press the F8 key on your keyboard multiple times until you see the Windows Advanced Option menu, then select Safe Mode with Networking from the list.

Safe Mode with Networking

Video showing how to start Windows 7 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Windows 8 users: Go to the Windows 8 Start Screen, type Advanced, in the search results select Settings. Click on Advanced Startup options, in the opened "General PC Settings" window select Advanced Startup. Click on the "Restart now" button. Your computer will now restart into "Advanced Startup options menu". Click on the "Troubleshoot" button, then click on "Advanced options" button. In the advanced option screen click on "Startup settings". Click on the "Restart" button. Your PC will restart into the Startup Settings screen. Press "5" to boot in Safe Mode with Networking Prompt.

Windows 8 Safe Mode with networking

Video showing how to start Windows 8 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Windows 10 users: Click the Windows logo and select the Power icon. In the opened menu click "Restart" while holding "Shift" button on your keyboard. In the "choose an option" window click on the "Troubleshoot", next select "Advanced options". In the advanced options menu select "Startup Settings" and click on the "Restart" button. In the following window you should click the "F5" button on your keyboard. This will restart your operating system in safe mode with networking.

windows 10 safe mode with networking

Video showing how to start Windows 10 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Step 2

Log in to the account infected with the "Product Key Has Expired" virus. Start your Internet browser and download a legitimate anti-spyware program. Update the anti-spyware software and start a full system scan. Remove all entries detected.

If you cannot start your computer in Safe Mode with Networking, try performing a System Restore.

Video showing how to remove viruses using "Safe Mode with Command Prompt" and "System Restore":

1. During your computer starting process, press the F8 key on your keyboard multiple times until the Windows Advanced Options menu appears, and then select Safe Mode with Command Prompt from the list and press ENTER.

Boot your computer in Safe Mode with Command Prompt

2. When Command Prompt Mode loads, enter the following line: cd restore and press ENTER.

system restore using command prompt type cd restore

3. Next, type this line: rstrui.exe and press ENTER.

system restore using command prompt rstrui.exe

4. In the opened window, click "Next".

restore system files and settings

5. Select one of the available Restore Points and click "Next" (this will restore your computer system to an earlier time and date, prior to the "Product Key Has Expired" virus infiltrating your PC).

select a restore point

6. In the opened window, click "Yes".

run system restore

7. After restoring your computer to a previous date, download and scan your PC with recommended malware removal software to eliminate any remnants of the "Product Key Has Expired" virus.

If you cannot start your computer in Safe Mode with Networking (or with Command Prompt), boot your computer using a rescue disk. Some viruses disable Safe Mode making it's removal complicated. For this step, you require access to another computer. After removing "Product Key Has Expired" virus from your PC, restart your computer and scan it with legitimate anti-spyware software to remove any possible remnants of this security infection.

Other tools known to remove this scam:

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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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