Protect data from encryption by HORSELIKER ransomware

Also Known As: HORSELIKER virus
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Severe

HORSELIKER ransomware removal instructions

What is HORSELIKER?

HORSELIKER belongs to the Phobos ransomware family and was discovered by Raby. Like most ransomware-type programs, HORSELIKER is designed to encrypt files with a strong encryption algorithm. To recover encrypted files, victims of HORSELIKER are encouraged to pay a ransom to the developers. This ransomware renames all encrypted files by adding the victim's ID, email address, and the ".HORSELIKER" extension to filenames. For example, HORSELIKER might rename "1.jpg" to "1.jpg.id[1E857D00-2374].[cleverhorse@ctemplar.com].HORSELIKER". It also creates text files named "info.txt" and "info.hta". If opened, the latter displays a ransom message in a pop-up window.

To obtain a decryption tool (decryption key and/or program), victims must contact cyber criminals via the cleverhorse@ctemplar.com email address or Jabber client (cleverhorse@xmpp.jp account). In any case, the decryption tool is provided only after payment, which must be made using a cryptocurrency (Bitcoin). It is stated that cost the of decryption depends on how quickly victims contact the cyber criminals who designed this ransomware. They offer to decrypt 1-3 files free of charge, however, only files that do not contain any 'valuable information'. The files can be sent to them via email or Jabber. Furthermore, HORSELIKER's developers encourage victims not to rename any of the encrypted files or try to decrypt them using third party tools, since this might cause permanent data loss. In summary, victims must contact these criminals, pay the ransom, and then wait until they receive a decryption tool. Note that it is very likely that they will send anything. Ransomware developers who are paid, usually ignore the victims. People who trust them are scammed. Unfortunately, there are no other tools capable of decoding files encrypted by HORSELIKER free of charge. In most cases, the only way to recover files without losing money and risking being scammed is to restore them from a backup.

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

HORSELIKER decrypt instructions

HORSELIKER is one of many ransomware programs online. Other examples are Bora, CASH, and Sapphire. These malicious programs all encrypt data and create files with instructions about how to pay the ransom. Main differences are usually cryptographic algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) used to encrypt data and cost of decryption. Most encryptions cannot be broken without the involvement of cyber criminals, unless the ransomware is still in development and/or contains bugs/flaws. Therefore, have data backed up and store it on a remote server or unplugged storage device.

How did ransomware infect my computer?

There are several different ways that cyber criminals use to infect computers with ransomware or other malware. Typically, computers become infected through untrustworthy software download sources, spam campaigns, fake software updaters, Trojans, and unofficial software activation tools. Examples of dubious download sources are freeware download websites, free file hosting websites, unofficial pages, Peer-to-Peer networks such as torrent clients, eMule, and so on. People infect their computers when they download and open malicious files that are disguised as legitimate or harmless. Spam campaigns infect computers through malicious attachments. Cyber criminals send emails that contain attachments such as Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel and others), archive files (RAR and ZIP), executables (.exe files), PDF documents, JavaScript files, and so on. If opened, they install malicious software (i.e., ransomware). Fake software updaters usually cause damage by exploiting bugs/flaws of outdated software that is installed on the computer, or by downloading malicious software rather than updates. Trojans usually cause chain infections - they install malware. Programs that supposedly bypass activation of paid software can also be used to proliferate malicious software. These tools simply install malware rather than activating any installed programs.

Threat Summary:
Name HORSELIKER virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker.
Encrypted Files Extension .HORSELIKER
Ransom Demanding Message info.hta and info.txt files.
Cyber Criminal Contact cleverhorse@ctemplar.com and Jabber account (cleverhorse@xmpp.jp)
Detection Names Avast (Win32:Malware-gen), BitDefender (Trojan.Ransom.Phobos.F), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Filecoder.Phobos.C), 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.
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How to protect yourself from ransomware infections

Do not open attachments or web links received from some unknown, suspicious address and/or presented in irrelevant emails. Keep installed software up-to-date, however, use implemented functions or tools designed by official software developers. Download software from official websites and avoid using third party downloaders/installers, Peer-to-Peer networks, or other tools. Installed programs should not be activated through unofficial ('cracking') tools. These are illegal and often infect computers with high-risk malware. Have reputable anti-virus or anti-spyware software installed and scan the computer with it regularly. If your computer is already infected with HORSELIKER, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in HORSELIKER ransomware pop-up window ("info.hta"):

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 cleverhorse@ctemplar.com
Write this ID in the title of your message 1E857D00-2374
If there is no response from our mail, you can install the Jabber client and write to us in support of cleverhorse@xmpp.jp
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 tool that will decrypt all your files.
Free decryption as guarantee
Before paying you can send us up to 1-3 files for free decryption. The total size of files must be less than 4Mb (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.
hxxps://localbitcoins.com/buy_bitcoins
Also you can find other places to buy Bitcoins and beginners guide here:
hxxp://www.coindesk.com/information/how-can-i-buy-bitcoins/
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.
Click "Add"
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"
Click add
If you selected "domain" - exploit.im, then a new window should appear in which you will need to re-enter your data:
User
password
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
Attention!
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 HORSELIKER text file ("info.txt"):

HORSELIKER text file

Text in this file:

Want return your files? Write to our mail cleverhorse@ctemplar.com
If you have a problem with xmpp you can write our xmpp account - cleverhorse@xmpp.jp
The easiest way - register here hxxps://www.xmpp.jp/signup
After download pidgin client https://pidgin.im/
Press Add account,choose protocol xmpp and put username from xmpp.jp where are you sign up
Domain - xmpp.jp
Put your password and press add
When you log in press Buddies --> Add Buddy-->and in Buddys username put cleverhorse@xmpp.jp
After you will see added account cleverhorse@xmpp.jp,click twice on it and write your message.

You can send us 1-3 test files. The total size of files must be less than 10Mb (non archived),
we will decrypt them and send to you that we are real

Screenshot of files encrypted by HORSELIKER (".HORSELIKER" extension):

Files encrypted by HORSELIKER

HORSELIKER ransomware removal:

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Malwarebytes is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of malware. Download it by clicking the button below:
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Quick menu:

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 HORSELIKER 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 HORSELIKER 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 HORSELIKER 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 HORSELIKER 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 HORSELIKER, 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 HORSELIKER 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 HORSELIKER 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 malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

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

QR Code
HORSELIKER virus QR code
A QR code (Quick Response Code) is a machine-readable code which stores URLs and other information. This code can be read using a camera on a smartphone or a tablet. Scan this QR code to have an easy access removal guide of HORSELIKER virus on your mobile device.
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