Acute ransomware removal instructions
What is Acute?
First discovered by GrujaRS, Acute is a new variant of high-risk ransomware called Phobos. The purpose of this ransomware is to encrypt data so that developers can make ransom demands. Acute is designed to rename each compromised file by appending the victim's unique ID, developer's email address, and ".acute" extension. For example, "sample.jpg" might be renamed to a filename such as "sample.jpg.id[1E857D00-1096].[email@example.com].acute". Following successful encryption, Acute generates two files ("info.txt" and "info.hta"), placing them on the desktop.
The new text file ("info.txt") contains a short message informing victims of the encryption and encouraging them to contact Acute's developers. Meanwhile, an HTML application ("info.hta") displays a pop-up window, which delivers much more information. It states that files are compromised and that victims must purchase a decryption tool to restore them. The encryption algorithm used by Acute is currently unknown, however, each victim gets a unique decryption key necessary to restore files. All keys are stored on a remote server controlled by cyber criminals (Acute's developers). To obtain a key, or rather a decryption tool with the key embedded within, each victim must pay a ransom. The cost is not specified - these details are provided via email. It is only stated that payment must be submitted using the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. In addition, criminals offer free decryption of five files (up to 10 MB in total, non-archived) as 'proof' that they are capable of cracking the encryption. Regardless of the cost, do not pay. Most ransomware developers ignore victims, once payments are submitted. Therefore, ignore all requests to submit payments or even contact these people, since this will deliver no positive result and you will simply support cyber criminals' malicious businesses. Unfortunately, there are no tools capable of restoring data encrypted by Acute free of charge. Therefore, you can only restore everything from a backup, if one has been created.
Screenshot of a message encouraging users to pay a ransom to decrypt their compromised data:
Internet is full of ransomware-type infections that share similarities with Acute. Rabbit4444, Todar, foSTE - the list goes on. Most of these infections encrypt data and make ransom demands. There are typically just two major differences: 1) size of ransom, and; 2) type of encryption algorithm used. Unfortunately, encryptions are usually performed using algorithms that generate unique decryption keys (e.g., RSA, AES, and similar). Therefore, unless the malware has bugs or flaws, restoring files without developers' involvement is impossible. We strongly recommend that you maintain regular data backups, however, store them on an unplugged storage device (e.g., Flash drive, external hard drive or similar) or remote server (e.g., Cloud), since locally stored backups are compromised together with regular data. Additionally, have multiple backup copies stored in different locations, since there is always a chance that servers/storage devices can be damaged.
How did ransomware infect my computer?
Ransomware-type infections such as Acute are typically distributed using the following tools/methods: trojans, fake software update tools, fake software cracks, third party software download sources, and spam email campaigns. Trojans are small applications that stealthily infiltrates computers to inject them with additional malware. Fake software updaters are typically designed to infect systems by exploiting outdated software bugs/flaws or merely downloading and installing malware rather than updates. Cracking tools allow users to bypass paid software activation and gain access to features, however, since most cracks are fake, users often end up infecting their computers rather than gaining access to any paid software. Third party download sources (e.g., freeware download websites, free file hosting sites, Peer-to-Peer [P2P] networks [eMule, torrents, etc.] and similar) are used to present malware as legitimate software. In this way, criminals trick users into manually downloading and installing malware. The same applies to spam email campaigns, which are used to send hundreds of thousands of deceptive emails that present malicious attachments as 'important documents' (receipts, invoices, bills, etc.) Opening then results in various malware infections. The main reasons for computer infections are poor knowledge of these threats and careless behavior.
|Threat Type||Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker|
|Encrypted Files Extension||.acute (this ransomware also appends filenames with the victim's unique ID and developer's email address).|
|Ransom Demanding Message||info.hta HTML application and info.txt text file|
|Cyber Criminal Contactfirstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com|
|Detection Names||Avast (Win32:Trojan-gen), BitDefender (Gen:Variant.Ransom.Phobos.28), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Filecoder.Phobos.A), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan.Win32.Generic), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)|
|Symptoms||Cannot open files stored on your 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 demand payment of 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.
How to protect yourself from ransomware infections?
The main reasons for computer infections are poor knowledge of these threats and careless behavior. The key to safety is caution. Therefore, pay attention when browsing the internet and downloading/installing/updating software. Handle all email attachments with care. Email attachments that are irrelevant or do not concern you should never be opened. The same applies to links/files received from suspicious/unrecognizable email addresses. Download applications only from official sources and, if possible, use direct download links. Keeping installed applications/operating system up-to-date is also extremely important. To achieve this, however, use only implemented functions or tools provided by the official developer. Third party downloaders, installers and updaters usually include rogue applications, and thus such tools should never be used. Software piracy is a cyber crime, and since most cracking tools are fake, the risk of infection is extremely high. Therefore, never try to activate software using third party/illegal tools. Have a reputable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed and running. This software is capable of detecting and eliminating malware before it damages the system. If your computer is already infected with Acute, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.
Text presented in Acute ransomware pop-up window ("info.hta" - HTML application):
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 1E857D00-1096
If there is no response from our mail, you can install the Jabber client and write to us in support of email@example.com
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 Acute text file ("info.txt"):
Text presented within this file:
!!! All of your files are encrypted !!!
To decrypt them 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
Screenshot of files encrypted by Acute (".acute" extension):
Acute 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:
- What is Acute virus?
- STEP 1. Isolating the infected device.
- STEP 2. Identifying the ransomware infection.
- STEP 3. Searching for ransomware decryption tools.
- STEP 4. Restoring files with data recovery tools.
- STEP 5. Creating data backups.
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 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.
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).
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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":
Select the files you want to backup. You can also enter a name and description of the backup that will be created:
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:
Select the settings you want to change and click "Save". You can also reset your changes by clicking "Reset to initial settings":
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:
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:
The best way to avoid damage from ransomware infections is to maintain regular up-to-date backups.