How to avoid data loss caused by Format ransomware

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

Format ransomware removal instructions

What is Format?

Discovered by Michael Gillespie, Format is one of many malicious programs that belong to the Djvu ransomware family. Programs of this type are designed to encrypt files so that victims are unable to use them unless they decode them with a specific decryption tool or key. To obtain these tools/keys, victims are encouraged to pay the developers a ransom (typically, using a cryptocurrency). Format renames encrypted files by adding the ".format" extension. For example, "sample.jpg" becomes "sample.jpg.format". Instructions about how to decrypt files can be found in a text file called "_readme.txt", which is stored in all folders that contain encrypted files.

Format encrypts photos, databases, documents, and other files using a strong encryption algorithm. The ransom message states that victims can decrypt their files with a tool that can be purchased ($980) from the cyber criminals who designed this ransomware. Format's developers (the cyber criminals) supposedly give a discount of %50 to those who contact them within the first 72 hours of infection by this ransomware. To reassure victims that they have a valid decryption tool, developers offer free decryption of one file, which can be sent via the gorentos@bitmessage.ch or gorentos2@firemail.cc email addresses, or their @datarestore Telegram account. Format developers should then provide further details such as a cryptocurrency wallet address, and so on. Despite this, we strongly advise that you do NOT trust ransomware developers. Often, they do not send the tools to decrypt files. Most people who trust them and pay for a decryption tool/key are scammed. It is generally impossible to decrypt files without the tools held only by ransomware developers, however, ransomware-type programs that belong to the Djvu family might be successfully decrypted with an offline decryption tool, but only if there was no Internet connection during the encryption process, or the server that cyber criminals used was not responding. There is no guarantee that this will work, however, it is worth a try. Another way to avoid data loss without having to contact ransomware developers is to recover files from a backup (if one was created prior to encryption).

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

Format decrypt instructions

Format is similar to most ransomware-type programs. Some other examples include Access, Ndarod, and Lilocked. Generally, ransomware is software that prevents people from accessing their files by encryption - cyber criminals use these programs to generate revenue by forcing victims to purchase a decryption tool or key. Common differences between these programs are cost of decryption and cryptography algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) used to lock files. Unfortunately, these algorithms make decryption without the correct tools impossible. In some cases, it is possible to decrypt files manually (without having to contact cyber criminals or pay them), however, only if the program is not fully developed, has unfixed bugs, flaws, etc. Therefore, maintain data back ups and keep them stored on a remote server or unplugged storage device.

How did ransomware infect my computer?

Ransomware and other high-risk malware is proliferated in a number of ways: spam campaigns, trojans, dubious download channels, fake software updating tools, and other tools ('cracks') that supposedly activate paid software free of charge. Cyber criminals often send emails that contain Microsoft Office document, PDF file, executable (.exe or others), JavaScript or archive (ZIP, RAR) files. The aim is to trick people into opening the attached file that, once opened, downloads and installs a malicious program such as ransomware. Trojans are malicious programs - they download and install other malware, however, this can only be done if the trojan is already installed on the operating system. Furthermore, malicious programs can be proliferated through untrustworthy download sources such as Peer-to-Peer networks (eMule, torrent clients, and so on), unofficial, free file hosting or freeware download pages, third party downloaders, and other similar sources. Typically, cyber criminals upload malicious files that are disguised as 'regular' or 'harmless' and hope that people will download and open them. If opened, they infect computers with malicious programs (they install malware). Fake update tools infect systems by downloading and installing malicious software, or by exploiting bugs/flaws of outdated software already installed on the operating system. Unofficial activation ('cracking') tools supposedly bypass paid software activation, however, they often install malware instead.

Threat Summary:
Name Format virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker
Encrypted Files Extension .format
Ransom Demanding Message _readme.txt
Ransom Amount $980/$490
Cyber Criminal Contact gorentos@bitmessage.ch, gorentos2@firemail.cc or @datarestore (Telegram).
Detection Names AVG (FileRepMalware), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/GenKryptik.DOTL), Kaspersky (UDS:DangerousObject.Multi.Generic), McAfee (Artemis!7483AFE53920), 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.
Additional Information This malware is designed to show fake Windows Update window, modify Windows "hosts" file (to prevent users from accessing cyber security websites) and inject AZORult trojan into the system.
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.
Removal

To eliminate Format virus our malware researchers recommend scanning your computer with Spyhunter.
▼ Download Spyhunter
Free scanner checks if your computer is infected. To remove malware, you have to purchase the full version of Spyhunter.

How to protect yourself from ransomware infections?

Do not open files/attachments (or links) that are received from dubious, unknown, suspicious addresses and included in irrelevant emails. Update installed software with tools or functions provided/designed by official developers. Download files and software from official and trustworthy websites. Do not trust the many dubious sources mentioned above. If installed software is not free, it should not be activated with unofficial tools. 'Cracking' is illegal and often leads to download and installation of malware. Keep the system safe by having a reputable anti-virus or anti-spyware suite installed and scanning the system regularly. If your computer is already infected with Format, we recommend running a scan with Spyhunter for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in Format ransomware text file ("_readme.txt"):

ATTENTION!

Don't worry, you can return all your files!
All your files like photos, databases, documents and other important are encrypted with strongest encryption and unique key.
The only method of recovering files is to purchase decrypt tool and unique key for you.
This software will decrypt all your encrypted files.
What guarantees you have?
You can send one of your encrypted file from your PC and we decrypt it for free.
But we can decrypt only 1 file for free. File must not contain valuable information.
You can get and look video overview decrypt tool:
https://we.tl/t-2P5WrE5b9f
Price of private key and decrypt software is $980.
Discount 50% available if you contact us first 72 hours, that's price for you is $490.
Please note that you'll never restore your data without payment.
Check your e-mail "Spam" or "Junk" folder if you don't get answer more than 6 hours.


To get this software you need write on our e-mail:
gorentos@bitmessage.ch

Reserve e-mail address to contact us:
gorentos2@firemail.cc

Our Telegram account:
@datarestore
Mark Data Restore

Your personal ID:
-

Screenshot of files encrypted by Format (".format" extension):

Files encrypted by Format

Malware researcher Michael Gillespie has developed a decryption tool that might restore your data if it was encrypted using an "offline key". As mentioned, each victim gets a unique decryption key, all of which are stored on remote servers controlled by cyber criminals. These are categorized as "online keys", however, there are cases whereby the infected machine has no Internet connection or the server is timing out/not responding. If this is the case, Format will use an "offline encryption key", which is hard-coded. Cyber criminals change offline keys periodically to prevent multiple encryptions with the same key. Meanwhile, Michael Gillespie continually gathers offline keys and updates the decrypter, however, the chances of successful decryption are still very low, since only a very small proportion of "offline keys" have so far been gathered. You can download the decrypter by clicking this link (note that the download link remains identical, even though the decrypter is being continually updated). Your files will be restored only if the list of gathered keys includes the one that was used to encrypt your data.

Screenshot of STOP/Djvu decrypter by Michael Gillespie:

STOP/Djvu ransomware decrypter by Michael Gillespie

As with most ransomware from the Djvu family, Format also displays a fake Windows update pop-up during the encryption:

Djvu ransomware family fake update

IMPORTANT NOTE! - As well as encrypting data, ransomware-type infections from the Djvu malware family also install a trojan-type virus called AZORult, which is designed to steal various account credentials. Moreover, this malware family is designed to add a number of entries to the Windows hosts file. The entries contain URLs of various websites, most of which are related to malware removal. This is done to prevent users from accessing malware security websites and seeking help. Our website (PCrisk.com) is also on the list. Removing these entries, however, is simple - you can find detailed instructions in this article (note that, although the steps are shown in the Windows 10 environment, the process is virtually identical on all versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system).

Screenshot of websites added to Windows hosts file:

Tro Ransomware adding websites to Windows Hosts file

Format ransomware removal:

Instant automatic removal of Format virus: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Spyhunter is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of Format virus. Download it by clicking the button below:
▼ DOWNLOAD Spyhunter By downloading any software listed on this website you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Free scanner checks if your computer is infected. To remove malware, you have to purchase the full version of Spyhunter.

Quick menu:

Step 1

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

Safe Mode with Networking

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

Windows 8 users: Start Windows 8 is Safe Mode with Networking - Go to Windows 8 Start Screen, type Advanced, in the search results select Settings. Click Advanced startup options, in the opened "General PC Settings" window, select Advanced startup. Click the "Restart now" button. Your computer will now restart into the "Advanced Startup options menu". Click the "Troubleshoot" button, and then click the "Advanced options" button. In the advanced option screen, click "Startup settings". Click the "Restart" button. Your PC will restart into the Startup Settings screen. Press F5 to boot in Safe Mode with Networking.

Windows 8 Safe Mode with networking

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

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

windows 10 safe mode with networking

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

Step 2

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

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

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

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

Boot your computer in Safe Mode with Command Prompt

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

system restore using command prompt type cd restore

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

system restore using command prompt rstrui.exe

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

restore system files and settings

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

select a restore point

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

run system restore

7. After restoring your computer to a previous date, download and scan your PC with recommended malware removal software to eliminate any remaining Format ransomware files.

To restore individual files encrypted by this ransomware, try using Windows Previous Versions feature. This method is only effective if the System Restore function was enabled on an infected operating system. Note that some variants of Format are known to remove Shadow Volume Copies of the files, so this method may not work on all computers.

To restore a file, right-click over it, go into Properties, and select the Previous Versions tab. If the relevant file has a Restore Point, select it and click the "Restore" button.

Restoring files encrypted by CryptoDefense

If you cannot start your computer in Safe Mode with Networking (or with Command Prompt), boot your computer using a rescue disk. Some variants of ransomware disable Safe Mode making its removal complicated. For this step, you require access to another computer.

To regain control of the files encrypted by Format, you can also try using a program called Shadow Explorer. More information on how to use this program is available here.

shadow explorer screenshot

To protect your computer from file encryption ransomware such as this, use reputable antivirus and anti-spyware programs. As an extra protection method, you can use programs called HitmanPro.Alert and EasySync CryptoMonitor, which artificially implant group policy objects into the registry to block rogue programs such as Format ransomware.

Note that Windows 10 Fall Creators Update includes a "Controlled Folder Access" feature that blocks ransomware attempts to encrypt your files. By default, this feature automatically protects files stored in the Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, Favorites as well as Desktop folders.

Controll Folder Access

Windows 10 users should install this update to protect their data from ransomware attacks. Here is more information on how to get this update and add an additional protection layer from ransomware infections.

HitmanPro.Alert CryptoGuard - detects encryption of files and neutralises any attempts without need for user-intervention:

hitmanproalert ransomware prevention application

Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware Beta uses advanced proactive technology that monitors ransomware activity and terminates it immediately - before reaching users' files:

malwarebytes anti-ransomware

  • The best way to avoid damage from ransomware infections is to maintain regular up-to-date backups. More information on online backup solutions and data recovery software Here.

Other tools known to remove Format ransomware:

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 virus and spyware activity level today:

Medium threat activity
Medium

Increased attack rate of infections detected within the last 24 hours.

QR Code
Format virus QR code
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