Golden Axe Ransomware
Written by Tomas Meskauskas on (updated)
What is Golden Axe?
Golden Axe is a computer infection that was discovered by mol69 and categorized as ransomware. Cyber criminals use this infection to blackmail people: Golden Axe encrypts data stored on a computer, rendering it inaccessible unless a ransom is paid.
It creates "# instructions-X6DEV #.jpg" (a ransom message in the format of an image file), "# instructions-X6DEV #.txt" (a ransom demand text file), and "# instructions-X6DEV #.vbs" (an audio file).
These files are placed in folders that contain encrypted data. Golden Axe renames every encrypted file by adding a random extension. In our example, the ".X6DEV" extension (a random string as used in the above files). For example, "1.jpg" becomes "1.jpg.X6DEV".
When opened, the "# instructions-X6DEV #.vbs" file plays voice audio stating "All your files are encrypted. Read the Help file for solution." The "# instructions-X6DEV #.jpg" image states that all files (including documents, photos, and so on) are encrypted and that the "# instructions-X6DEV #.txt" file must be read for more information.
The message states that none of the files can be used unless they are decrypted and that decryption is impossible without using a specific tool.
To purchase the tool, users are required to contact Golden Axe's developers via the firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com email address (the email message should contain a unique ID that can be found at the bottom of the text file). It is also stated that the only way to pay the ransom is using the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
The ransom sum is unknown, however, the message states that this depends on how quickly Golden Axe victims make contact. They offer free decryption of one file no larger than one megabyte.
Cyber criminals present this offer as a gesture of their 'honesty', however, they also mention that none of the encrypted files should be renamed or modified in any way, since this might cause permanent data loss (data corruption).
It is unknown which cryptography algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) is used to encrypt data with this particular ransomware, however, most cyber criminals use cryptographies that make decryption, without using a specific tool, impossible. Therefore, ransomware victims are forced to contact cyber criminals to purchase a decryption tool or key.
In fact, most ransomware developers ignore victims once they receive cryptocurrency ransom payments. Therefore, do not contact the developers of Golden Axe. If you have a data backup created prior to encryption, restore all files from there.
Screenshot of a message encouraging users to pay a ransom to decrypt their compromised data:
Many other ransomware-type programs are similar to Golden Axe including, for example, Jamper, GILETTE, and Yatron. These are just some examples from many. Generally, these programs encrypt data and generate ransom demand messages. The main differences are usually cost of a decryption tool/key and cryptography algorithm used to encrypt files (data).
Unfortunately, most encryptions caused by ransomware-type programs are impossible to decrypt without contacting cyber criminals (purchasing and using their decryption tools). Decryption without the involvement of cyber criminals is possible only if ransomware is not fully developed (contains bugs, flaws).
To avoid data/financial loss caused by these malicious programs, create regular backups and store them on remote servers (such as Cloud) or unplugged storage devices. Backups stored on a computer can be encrypted with other data.
How did ransomware infect my computer?
There is no information about how Golden Axe developers distribute this ransomware, however, most of these programs are proliferated using spam campaigns (emails), software 'cracking' tools, dubious software download channels, fake software updaters, and Trojans.
Opening attachments of this type leads to download and installation of ransomware or other infections. Tools that to activate licensed software without payment (software 'cracking' tools) often cause computer infections. In many cases, these tools download and install malicious programs rather than bypassing software activation.
Peer-to-Peer networks (torrent clients, eMule etc.), unofficial websites, freeware download and file hosting websites, and other similar channels that people use to download software can cause computer infections.
Cyber criminals use these channels to present their malicious files as legitimate - people who download and open/install them, inadvertently cause ransomware and other infections.
Fake software updaters are also used to proliferate viruses. They exploit bugs, flaws of outdated software or download and install malicious programs rather than updates or fixes. Trojans can only cause damage if they are first installed. They then go on to proliferate other malicious programs (cause chain infections).
|Name||Golden Axe virus|
|Threat Type||Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker.|
|Symptoms||Cannot open files stored on the computer, previously functional files now have a different extension (for example, my.docx.locked). A ransom demand message is displayed on your desktop. Cyber criminals request a ransom payment (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?
Be careful with attachments or links that are presented in emails received from unknown or suspicious addresses. If an email is irrelevant and contains an attachment, simply ignore it. Do not open attachments without being sure that it is safe to do so. Download software from official, trustworthy websites and using directs links.
Avoid using third party downloaders, Peer-to-Peer networks, and the other tools mentioned above, since they are often used to proliferate unwanted apps and computer infections (such as ransomware). Keep installed software updated, however, use tools or implemented functions provided by official software developers.
Software or operating systems should not be activated using 'cracking' tools, since this is a cyber crime and often leads to computer infections.
Finally, ensure that there is reputable anti-spyware or anti-virus software installed and that it is enabled. If your computer is already infected with Golden Axe, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.
Text presented in Golden Axe ransomware text file ("# instructions-X6DEV #.txt"):
*** UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES UNTIL DECRYPT YOUR FILES DO NOT DELETE THIS INSTRUCTIONS FILE ***
# What Happened?
All your files, documents, photos, databases, and other important files are encrypted by 'Golden Axe' ransomware!
It means you will not be able to access them anymore until they are decrypted.
Recovery process impossible without purchasing your special decryption package from us!
# Free Decryption Guarantee!
We will decrypt one of your files before you making payment to show our honesty.
Pick up and attach one of your random encrypted files less than ~1 megabytes in the first contact with us.
* Make sure you will send the file as clear. Not archived, compressed or etc...
# How to contact with you?
Send your message with your 'DATA' block on the blow of this file to our email address - firstname.lastname@example.org
and wait for our response.
Write in email message what you think necessary.
Do not forget, write to us in English or get help for a professional translator.
Also do not forget!
When we does not reply your email after 24 hour, send your message to our backup email - email@example.com
# How to Purchase Decryption Package?
We will send you next step instructions about payment and decryption in the email.
The decryption price base on how fast you contact with us!
We accept only cryptocurrency named Bitcoin (BTC) as a payment method.
# How to Purchase Bitcoin?
Use the global and trusted Bitcoin exchange website - https://localbitcoins.com for fast and easy Bitcoin purchase.
For more information search about 'How to buy Bitcoin' on the internet.
* DO NOT MODIFY, MOVE OR RENAME ENCRYPTED FILES. THIS CAUSES A CORRUPT YOUR FILES!
Screenshot of Golden Axe .jpg image (containing the same text as the .txt file):
Screenshot of files encrypted by Golden Axe (in our example, with the ".X6DEV" extension):
Golden Axe 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 Golden Axe 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.
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