Phobos Ransomware

Also Known As: Phobos virus
Distribution: Moderate
Damage level: Severe

Phobos ransomware removal instructions

What is Phobos?

Phobos is a ransomware-type malicious program that (like most programs of this type) encrypts data/locks files stored and keeps them in this state until a ransom is paid. Phobos renames all encrypted files by adding the ".phobos" extension plus the victim's unique ID and an email address. For example, "1.jpg" might be renamed to a filename such as "1.jpg.ID-63857777.[job2019@tutanota.com].phobos. Other variants of Phobos ransomware use the extension for encrypted files: ".[decryptbox@airmail.cc].Adair", ".[hanesworth.fabian@aol.com].deal", ".[restorebackup@qq.com].Caley", ".barak", ".zax", ".BANKS", ".banjo", ".[lockhelp@qq.com].acute", ".1500dollars", ".[danger@countermail.com].blend", ".[helpteam38@protonmail.com].adage", ".[helpyourdata@qq.com].phobos", ".[ramsey_frederick@aol.com].phobos", ".[wallyredd@aol.com].phoenix", ".[elizabeth67bysthompson@aol.com].phobos", ".[Job2019@tutanota.com] .phobos", ". [Cadillac.407@aol.com] .phobos", ".[beltoro905073@aol.com].phobos" or ".[matrixBTC@keemail.me].phobos". The email presented in the assigned extension varies. The virus encrypts data using AES cryptography and, after encryption, generates an HTML application ("Phobos.hta") and opens it. This app displays a pop-up window that contains a ransom-demand message.

In the ransom-demand message, cyber criminals state that all files are encrypted. To decrypt them, victims must contact them via the cadillac.407@aol.com, ottoZimmerman@protonmail.ch, or other email addresses and provide the assigned ID ("Encryption ID"). Phobos developers offer free decryption of some files as 'proof' that they can be trusted and are capable of decryption (have the required decryption tool). They also urge victims to contact them immediately: supposedly, the sooner cyber criminals are contacted, the lower the cost of decryption. They also warn users of infected computers that only they can provide means to decrypt files. They state that any attempts to use other tools might result in permanent data damage (data loss). One victim contacted Phobos developers and received a response stating that cost of decryption (at that time) was $3000, however, they also stated that unless payment to a Bitcoin wallet (provided) was made within six hours, the cost would increase by $2000 (total cost of decryption tool would then be $5000). Typically, cyber criminals use cryptography algorithms that generate unique keys and are impossible to 'crack'. Furthermore, ransomware developers store these keys on remote servers controlled only by them. Decryption without involvement of cyber criminals is generally impossible, however, we recommended that you never trust these people or contact them - they ignore victims once ransom payments are made. If your computer is infected with Phobos, the best solution is to use an existing data backup and restore files from there. There is no tool currently capable of free file decryption.

Screenshot of a message encouraging users to pay a ransom to decrypt their compromised data:

Phobos decrypt instructions

There are many ransomware-type programs, most of which are very similar. Examples include Seon, Nostro, and LyaS. The main purpose of these viruses is to encrypt data and to force victims to pay ransoms (typically in cryptocurrencies). The main differences are usually cost of decryption key/tool and cryptography algorithm used to encrypt the data. Only ransomware developers can provide victims with decryption keys/tools, and thus it is generally impossible to decrypt data without their involvement. This might only be possible if the virus is not fully developed or contains flaws/bugs. Therefore, create regular data backups and store them on remote servers or unplugged storage devices.

How did ransomware infect my computer?

There are several commonly used ways to infect computers with ransomware, however, it is not known exactly how cyber criminals proliferate Phobos. Typically, ransomware developers proliferate these infections through spam email campaigns, fake software updaters, dubious software download sources, and trojans. Spam campaigns infect computers through email attachments, which could be Microsoft Office documents, archive files, executables, PDF files, and so on. Cyber criminals send many emails containing malicious attachments hoping that some users will open them. Opening these attachments/installing malicious software usually results in computer infection with ransomware or other high-risk viruses. Fake software updaters often download and install malware rather than the promised updates, or exploit bugs/flaws of the outdated software. Cyber criminals use untrustworthy software download sources (such as freeware download websites, free file hosting websites, and peer-to-peer networks) to proliferate malicious files (executables) by presenting them as legitimate. By downloading and executing (running) them, malware (such as ransomware-type programs) is installed. Trojans are viruses (malicious programs) that, once installed, proliferate ransomware and other infections.

Threat Summary:
Name Phobos virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker
Encrypted Files Extension .phobos (this ransomware also appends filenames with victim's unique ID and developers' email address)
Ransom Demanding Message Html application (Phobos.hta)
Cyber Criminal Contact cadillac.407@aol.com, OttoZimmerman@protonmail.ch, ofizducwe111988@aol.com, FobosAmerika@protonmail.ch
Detection Names Avast (Win32:Trojan-gen), BitDefender (Gen:Variant.Ransom.Phobos.1), ESET-NOD32 (a variant of Win32/Filecoder.Phobos.A), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan.Win32.Generic), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
Symptoms Can'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 methods Infected email attachments (macros), torrent websites, malicious ads.
Damage All 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)

To eliminate possible malware infections, scan your computer with legitimate antivirus software. Our security researchers recommend using Malwarebytes.
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How to protect yourself from ransomware infections?

Take precautions when browsing the web, downloading, installing, and updating software. Avoid opening attachments presented in irrelevant emails. If you receive an email that contains an attachment (or web link) sent from an unknown/untrustworthy email address, do not open the attachment or click the presented link. Download software using official websites or other reliable sources. Do not use third party downloaders or other dubious tools. Do not use unofficial software updating tools - use tools or implemented functions that are provided by official software developers only. Have reputable anti-virus or anti-spyware software installed -  these tools can detect and eliminate various threats (computer infections) before they can do any damage. If your computer is already infected with Phobos, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in Phobos ransomware pop-up window:

All your files are encrypted
To decrypt your files, contact us using this e-mail: Cadillac.407@aol.com Please set topic 'Encryption ID: ********'.

We offer free decryption of your test files as a proof. You can attach them to your e-mail and we'll send you decrypted ones.
Decryption price increases over time, hurry up and get discount.
Decryption using third parties may lead to scam or increased price.

Screenshot of another variant of Phobos ransomware pop-up window:

another variant of Phobos ransomware pop-up window

Text presented in a second variant of Phobos ransomware pop-up window:

All your files are encrypted
Hello World
Data on this PC turned into a useless binary code
To return to normal, please contact us by this e-mail: OttoZimmerman@protonmail.ch, ofizducwe111988@aol.com, FobosAmerika@protonmail.ch
Set topic of your message to 'Encryption ID: ********'
Interesting Facts:
• 1. Over time, the cost increases, do not waste your time
• 2. Only we can help you, for sure, no one else.
• 3. BE CAREFUL !!! If you still try to find other solutions to the problem, make a backup copy of the files you want to experiment on, and play with them. Otherwise, they can be permanently damaged
• 4. Any services that offer you help or just take money from you and disappear, or they will be intermediaries between us, with inflated value. Since the antidote is only among the creators of the virus

Screenshot of files encrypted by Phobos (".phobos" extension that contains an ID and email address):

Files encrypted by Phobos

Phobos ransomware removal:

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Malwarebytes 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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Quick menu:

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 a ransomware that is not supported by ID Ransomware, you can always try searching the internet by using certain keywords (for example, ransom message title, file extension, provided contact emails, cryptowallet 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, cyber criminals 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 EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro. 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).

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EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro

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Step 1: Perform a scan.

  • Hover your mouse over the partition you wish to scan and select "Scan". You can also select a specific folder, or click shortcut icons to scan the Desktop or Recycle Bin:

Scanning the storage drive with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard PRO (step 1)

  • Wait for EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro 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 hundreds 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:

Scanning the storage drive with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard PRO (step 2)

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. Note also that the trial version of EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro is only capable of scanning drives and listing recoverable files - to restore them, you must purchase a license:

Recovering data with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro

Step 3: Save the scan session (optional).

  • We recommend that you save the scanning session once you have completed recovery, in case you decide to recover additional files later. Simply click the "Save Scan Session" icon in the upper-right corner of the screen and choose the location for the file to be saved. This will save a lot of time, since you will not need to re-scan the storage drive the next time you wish to restore something. Bear in mind, however, that data removed after the scanning session has finished will not be listed:

Saving scan session in EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro

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 necessary information on Microsoft's documentation web page.

Data backups: The most reliable backup method 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 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. Therefore, you should consider using an application to create data backups locally.

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EaseUS Todo Backup

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We recommend using the EaseUS Todo Backup application. The "Home" edition of EaseUS Todo Backup is usually more than adequate for regular users, however, the "Business" edition is more suitable for companies and large computer networks. The EaseUS Todo Backup application provides extensive data protection features. You can easily create backups, and encrypt and compress them for enhanced protection and storage saving purposes. It also allows you to set backup schedules, create bootable devices, and restore the system if a crash occurs. You can easily choose where to store the created backup: locally; uploaded to an external drive; FTP; cloud storage, or elsewhere. In summary, EaseUS Todo Backup is an all-in-one tool, which provides all features required to properly backup your data.

Creating a data backup:

The backup process is virtually identical regardless of the item (file, partition, entire system) you wish to backup. Taking the File Backup feature as an example:

Step 1: Choose which item to backup.

  • Click on the "Menu" icon in the upper-left corner of the screen to reveal the menu and select "File Backup":

Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 1)

  • Select the files you want to backup. You can also enter a name and description of the backup that will be created:

Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 2)

Step 2: Change the default settings.

The EaseUS Todo Backup application provides a variety of additional options that can be added/modified while creating the backup. For example, you can encrypt data (add a password), select the compression rate (how much the backup should be compressed), performance (how many system resources should be allocated), add an email notification (you receive an email once the process is complete) and so on.

  • To open the options window, click the "Backup options" button in the lower-left corner of the screen:

Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 3)

  • Select the settings you want to change and click "Save". You can also reset your changes by clicking "Reset to initial settings":

Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 4)

Step 3: Select the backup destination.

As mentioned above, EaseUS Todo Backup allows you to choose where backups are saved - locally or externally.

  • Click the "Browse..." button and select the location you want the backup to be saved:

Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 5)

Step 4: Safety measures and process completion.

Depending on the location you have chosen, there are a number of measures you should or should not take. If you are uploading to an internet-connected location (for example, Cloud storage, FTP, etc.), be sure to maintain your internet connection, otherwise you will have to start again. The same applies to external storage devices - do not unplug them until the process is complete.

  • The progress bar displays estimated time remaining until completion. Large backups (hundreds of gigabytes) can take hours to create (depending on storage device speed, internet connection, etc.). Therefore, the application also allows you to optionally choose what the system should do (shut down, sleep or hibernate) once the process has finished:

Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 6)

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

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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