Protect data from being encrypted 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, the person who discovered it is Raby. Like most ransomware-type programs, HORSELIKER is designed to encrypt files with a strong encryption algorithm. In order to be able to decrypt encrypted files victims of HORSELIKER have to pay its developers a ransom. This ransomware renames all encrypted files, it changes their filenames by adding victim's ID, email address and the ".HORSELIKER" extension. For example, HORSELIKER renames a file named "1.jpg" to "1.jpg.id[1E857D00-2374].[cleverhorse@ctemplar.com].HORSELIKER", and so on. Also, it creates a text file named "info.txt" and "info.hta" file that, if opened, displays ransom note in a pop-up window.

To get a decryption tool (decryption key or/and program) victims have to contact cyber criminals via cleverhorse@ctemplar.com email address or Jabber client (cleverhorse@xmpp.jp account). Either way, decryption tool will be provided only after a payment which must be done using cryptocurrency (Bitcoin). It is stated that price of a decryption depends on how fast victims will contact cyber criminals who designed this ransomware. They offer to decrypt 1-3 files for free, however, only the files that do not contain any valuable information. Decrypted files can be sent to them via email or Jabber. Also, HORSELIKER's developers encourage their victims not to rename any of the encrypted files or try to decrypt them using some third party tools because it might cause permanent data loss. To sum up, victims have to contact these cyber criminals, pay them a ransom and then wait until they will send a decryption tool. However, it is very likely that they will not send it. Quite often ransomware developers who get paid start to ignore their victims, in other words, people who trust them get scammed. Unfortunately, there are no other tools that could be capable of decrypting files encrypted by HORSELIKER for free. In most cases the only way to recover files without losing money and risking to be scammed is to restore them from a created backup.

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

HORSELIKER decrypt instructions

HORSELIKER is not the only ransomware, there are many other programs of this type. Some examples are Bora, CASH and Sapphire. What most of these malicious programs have in common is that they encrypt data create files that contain instructions on how to pay a ransom. Main differences usually are cryptographic algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) that is used to encrypt data and price of a decryption. One way or another, most encryptions cannot be decrypted without interference of cyber criminals. It is possible to avoid that only if ransomware is still in a development state, has some bugs, flaws. That is why we recommend have data backed up and to store it on a remote server or unplugged storage device.

How did ransomware infect my computer?

There are several different ways that most cyber criminals use to infect computers with ransomware or other malware. Typically, computers get infected through untrustworthy software download sources, spam campaigns, fake software updaters, Trojans and unofficial software activation tools. Examples of unreliable download sources are freeware download websites, free file hosting websites, unofficial pages, Peer-to-Peer networks like torrent clients, eMule, and so on. People infect their computers when they download and open malicious files that are disguised as legitimate, 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 (like RAR and ZIP), executables (.exe files), PDF documents, JavaScript files, and so on. If opened, they install some malicious software, i.e., ransomware. Fake software updaters usually cause damage in one of these two ways: by exploiting bugs, flaws of outdated software that is installed on computer or by downloading malicious software instead of updates. Trojans, if installed, usually cause chain infections - they install various malware. Programs that supposed to bypass activations of paid software can be used to spread malicious software too. These tools simply install malware instead of activating some installed program.

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 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.
Removal

To eliminate HORSELIKER 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?

We strongly recommend not to open attachments (or web links) that are received from some unknown, suspicious address, or/and presented in irrelevant emails. Also, it is important to keep installed software up to date. However, the only safest way to achieve it is to update it with implemented functions or tools that are designed by official software developers. Furthermore, we advise to download software only from official websites and avoid using third party downloaders (or installers), Peer-to-Peer networks and other tools that we mentioned in the previous paragraph. Installed programs should not be activated through unofficial ('cracking') tools. They are not legal and often infect computers with high-risk malware. We also recommend to have a reputable anti-virus or anti-spyware software installed and scan a computer with it regularly. If your computer is already infected with HORSELIKER, we recommend running a scan with Spyhunter for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in HORSELIKER ransomware's 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's text file ("info.txt"):

HORSELIKER text file

Tex 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 removal of HORSELIKER 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 HORSELIKER 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 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 "Controlled Folder Access" feature that blocks ransomware attempts to encrypt your files. By default this feature automatically protects files stored in 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's more information on how to get this update and add 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 virus and spyware activity level today:

Medium threat activity
Medium

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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Platform: Windows

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