Phobos (.phobos) ransomware virus - removal and decryption options
Written by Tomas Meskauskas on (updated)
What kind of malware 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.[firstname.lastname@example.org].phobos.
Other variants of Phobos ransomware use the extension for encrypted files: ".[email@example.com].Adair", ".[firstname.lastname@example.org].deal", ".[email@example.com].Caley", ".barak", ".zax", ".BANKS", ".banjo", ".[firstname.lastname@example.org].acute", ".1500dollars", ".[email@example.com].blend", ".[firstname.lastname@example.org].adage", ".[email@example.com].phobos", ".[firstname.lastname@example.org].phobos", ".[email@example.com].phoenix", ".[firstname.lastname@example.org].phobos", ".[Job2019@tutanota.com] .phobos", ". [Cadillac.email@example.com] .phobos", ".[firstname.lastname@example.org].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.
Screenshot of files encrypted by Phobos (".phobos" extension that contains an ID and email address):
Ransom note overview
In the ransom-demand message, cyber criminals state that all files are encrypted. To decrypt them, victims must contact them via the email@example.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).
More about ransomware
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.
Similarities with other ransomware
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 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 Contactfirstname.lastname@example.org, OttoZimmerman@protonmail.ch, email@example.com, FobosAmerika@protonmail.ch, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com|
|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 Combo Cleaner.
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 Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.
Screenshot of the opened Phobos ransomware's "info.hta" file:
Text in this ransom note:
All your files have been encrypted!
All your files have been encrypted due to a security problem with your PC. If you want to restore them, write us to the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Write this ID in the title of your message -
In case of no answer in 24 hours write us to this e-mail:email@example.com
If there is no response from our mail, you can install the Jabber client and write to us in support of firstname.lastname@example.org
You have to pay for decryption in Bitcoins. The price depends on how fast you write to us. After payment we will send you the decryption tool that will decrypt all your files.
Free decryption as guarantee
Before paying you can send us up to 5 files for free decryption. The total size of files must be less than 10Mb (non archived), and files should not contain valuable information. (databases,backups, large excel sheets, etc.)
How to obtain Bitcoins
The easiest way to buy bitcoins is LocalBitcoins site. You have to register, click 'Buy bitcoins', and select the seller by payment method and price.
Also you can find other places to buy Bitcoins and beginners guide here:
Jabber client installation instructions:
Download the jabber (Pidgin) client from hxxps://pidgin.im/download/windows/
After installation, the Pidgin client will prompt you to create a new account.
In the "Protocol" field, select XMPP
In "Username" - come up with any name
In the field "domain" - enter any jabber-server, there are a lot of them, for example - exploit.im
Create a password
At the bottom, put a tick "Create account"
If you selected "domain" - exploit.im, then a new window should appear in which you will need to re-enter your data:
You will need to follow the link to the captcha (there you will see the characters that you need to enter in the field below)
If you don't understand our Pidgin client installation instructions, you can find many installation tutorials on youtube - hxxps://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=pidgin+jabber+install
Do not rename encrypted files.
Do not try to decrypt your data using third party software, it may cause permanent data loss.
Decryption of your files with the help of third parties may cause increased price (they add their fee to our) or you can become a victim of a scam.
Screenshot of the "info.txt" file:
Text in this file:
!!! All of your files are encrypted !!!
To decrypt them send e-mail to this address: email@example.com.
If we don't answer in 48h., send e-mail to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
If there is no response from our mail, you can install the Jabber client and write to us in support of email@example.com
Screenshots of ransom notes displayed by previous Phobos variants:
Phobos ransomware removal:
Instant automatic malware removal:
Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer 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:
Video suggesting what steps should be taken in case of a ransomware infection:
- What is Phobos virus?
- STEP 1. Reporting ransomware to authorities.
- STEP 2. Isolating the infected device.
- STEP 3. Identifying the ransomware infection.
- STEP 4. Searching for ransomware decryption tools.
- STEP 5. Restoring files with data recovery tools.
- STEP 6. Creating data backups.
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):
- USA - Internet Crime Complaint Centre IC3
- United Kingdom - Action Fraud
- Spain - Policía Nacional
- France - Ministère de l'Intérieur
- Germany - Polizei
- Italy - Polizia di Stato
- The Netherlands - Politie
- Poland - Policja
- Portugal - Polícia Judiciária
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:
Click the "Change adapter settings" option in the upper-left corner of the window:
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".
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":
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).
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).
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).
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):
Example 2 (.iso [Phobos] ransomware):
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.
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.
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:
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:
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 cloud icon to open the OneDrive menu. While in this menu, you can customize your file backup settings.
Click Help & Settings and then select Settings from the drop-down menu.
Go to the Backup tab and click Manage 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.
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.
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.
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.
To access files only located on OneDrive online, go to the Help & Settings drop-down menu and select View online.
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?
Cybercriminals aim to trick users into infecting computers (executing ransomware) by themselves. Most of them send emails containing malicious attachments or links or use fake installers for pirated software, untrustworthy sources for downloading programs and files, fake updaters, or Trojans to distribute ransomware.
How to open ".phobos" files?
Files encrypted by ransomware (in this case, Phobos) cannot be opened until they are decrypted with the right decryption tool.
Where should I look for free decryption tools for Phobos 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 paid decryption cannot be trusted. They are scammers or act as a man-in-the-middle. Typically, it is impossible to decrypt files without tools that only cybercriminals behind ransomware attacks have. Free decryption is only possible if ransomware has flaws/bugs.
Will Combo Cleaner help me remove Phobos ransomware?
Yes, Combo Cleaner will remove ransomware from the compromised computer, which prevents any possible further damage (encryptions). Unfortunately, antivirus software cannot decrypt files.
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