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How to avoid data encryption by Xxxinstant ransomware

Also Known As: Xxxinstant virus
Damage level: Severe

What is Xxxinstant?

Xxxinstant is malicious software designed to block access to data by encryption. Victims cannot use their files unless they decode them with decryption software, which can purchased from the cyber criminals who designed Xxxinstant. This ransomware is a new variant of another ransomware infection called Scarab.

This particular variant was discovered by Vitali Kremez. Xxxinstant renames all encrypted files, giving them a random filename and changing extensions to ".xxxinstant". For example, "1.jpg" might be renamed to a filename such as "1.jpg.sPnwCt8=JQr1DEZovSWcI4AqMsHjccF7wFO35A.xxxinstant".

Furthermore, it creates a text file (ransom message) called "RECOVER ENCRYPTED FILES.TXT". If victims try to open Task Manager when Xxxinstant is encrypting files, the ransomware terminates it.

The ransom message states that Xxxinstant encrypts data with a strong encryption algorithm. Victims are informed that there is no free software available to decrypt their files and are advised not to rename or move them. According to these cyber criminals, any attempts to move or rename them might lead to permanent data loss.

They encourage victims to make contact immediately, since after three, and then seven days, the cost of decryption software is doubled. Victims are urged to make contact by sending an email to xxxinstant@cock.li or xxxinstant@tutanota.com, to include their unique IDs.

Xxxinstant's developers then supposedly provide instructions about how to pay the ransom and other details such as cost of decryption software. Despite this, do not trust these or other cyber criminals/ransomware developers. People who trust them (pay ransoms) are often scammed and receive no decryption software and/or keys.

In summary, once cyber criminals receive the money (typically, in a cryptocurrency), they ignore victims. In most cases, the only way to recover files without risking being scammed is to restore them from an existing backup. Note that removal of ransomware does not recover files (all data remains encrypted), it simply prevents ransomware from causing any further encryption.

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

Xxxinstant decrypt instructions

Xxxinstant is one of many ransomware-type programs. Other examples include DavesSmith, Derp, and Coot. Most of these malicious programs lock (encrypt) files and provide instructions to pay the ransom (purchase decryption software and/or key).

Main differences are cost of decryption and encryption algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) used to prevent victims from accessing their data. In most cases, it is impossible to decrypt files encrypted by ransomware without specific decryption tools (software and/or keys), unless the software contains bugs, flaws, etc.

Only the criminals who designed the ransomware can provide decryption tools. Therefore, to avoid data and possible financial loss in future, have your data backed-up on a remote server or unplugged storage device (otherwise, the backup might be encrypted with the remaining files).

How did ransomware infect my computer?

In most cases, malicious programs such as ransomware are proliferated through emails (spam campaigns), Trojans, unofficial software activation or updating tools and dubious software download channels/sources. Using spam campaigns, criminals attach malicious files to emails and send them to many people.

They disguise the emails (and attached files or web links) as 'important' and hope that at least some recipients open them. The files then infect computers with malicious software (ransomware). In most cases, they attach Microsoft Office or PDF documents, JavaScript files, executable files such as .exe or archives such as ZIP, RAR, and so on.

Using Trojans, they try to trick people into installing this software first. Once installed, it then starts to proliferate other malware. In this way, they cause chain infections.

Third party activation tools are used by people who wish to bypass paid activation of a licensed software (illegally), however, they often infect computers with high-risk malware - they simply install malicious software rather than activating any installed software.

Fake software update tools usually infect systems by downloading and installing malware rather than updates, or by exploiting bugs/flaws of outdated software. Malicious programs are also spread using dubious file or software download channels.

For example. Peer-to-Peer networks (torrent clients, eMule), unofficial websites, freeware download or free file hosting websites, third party downloaders, etc. People who use these channels to download files or programs risk installing malware (they open downloaded malicious files that are usually disguised as legitimate, harmless, and so on).

Threat Summary:
Name Xxxinstant virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker.
Encrypted Files Extension .xxxinstant
Ransom Demanding Message RECOVER ENCRYPTED FILES.TXT
Ransom Amount According to cyber criminals, this depends on how quickly victims contact them.
Cyber Criminal Contact xxxinstant@cock.li, xxxinstant@tutanota.com
Detection Names Avast (Win32:DangerousSig [Trj]), BitDefender (Trojan.GenericKDZ.56651), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Kryptik.GUBX), Kaspersky (Trojan-Banker.Win32.Jimmy.ffw), 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 During encryption, Xxxinstant prevents victims from accessing Task Manager by terminating it once it is opened.
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)

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How to protect yourself from ransomware infections?

Files that are attached to irrelevant emails should not be opened, especially those received from unknown or suspicious addresses. The same applies to web links that are presented in emails of this kind. Files and programs should be downloaded from official websites and via direct download links.

Other channels should not be trusted (examples are provided above). Keep installed programs up-to-date, however, use tools or implemented functions provided/designed by official developers. Third party tools should never be used. Programs should not be activated using third party ('cracking') tools.

This is illegal and can lead to installation of malicious programs. Scan your computer with a reputable antivirus or anti-spyware suite regularly. Keep this software up-to-date. If your computer is already infected with Xxxinstant, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in Xxxinstant ransomware text file ("RECOVER ENCRYPTED FILES.TXT"):

Your network has been penetrated.

 

All files on each host in the network have been encrypted with a strong algorythm.
Backups were either encrypted or deleted or backup disks were formatted.
No free decryption software is available in the public.
Do not rename the encryted or informational text files. Do not move the encrypted or informational text files.
This may lead to the impossibility of recovery of the certain files.

 

To get the files in your network decrypted you should pay for the decryption software.
The price for the decryptor is based on the network size, number of employees, annual revenue.
Please feel free to contact us for amount of BTC should be paid.

 

Some sensetive information was stolen from the file servers and will be uploaded
in the public in case you won't pay us.

 

You should get in contact with us within 3 days after you noticed the encryption.
If this doesn't happen the price is doubled after 3 days passed.

 

You should pay within 7 days since we receive the first email from you.
If this doesn't happen the price is doubled after 7 days since first email.
You have unique idkey , write it in letter when contact with us.

 

                                  Contact information:

                          primary email: xxxinstant@cock.li

                          reserve email: xxxinstant@tutanota.com
                              
                                  Your unique idkey:

Screenshot of files encrypted by Xxxinstant (".xxxinstant" extension):

Files encrypted by Xxxinstant

Xxxinstant ransomware removal:

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Video suggesting what steps should be taken in case of a ransomware infection:

Quick menu:

Reporting ransomware to authorities:

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):

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: Disconnecting computer from the Internet (step 1)

Click the "Change adapter settings" option in the upper-left corner of the window: Disconnecting computer from the Internet (step 2)

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". Disconnecting computer from the Internet (step 3)

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": Ejecting external storage devices

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).

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 1)

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).

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 2)

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).

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 3)

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):

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 4)

Example 2 (.iso [Phobos] ransomware):

Identify ransomware-type infection (step 5)

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.

Searching for ransomware decryption tools in nomoreransom.org website

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.

Recuva data recovery tool wizard

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:

Recuva data recovery tool scan time

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:

Recuva data recovery tool recovering 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 icon in the taskbar

Click the OneDrive cloud icon to open the OneDrive menu. While in this menu, you can customize your file backup settings.

Select Help & Settings and click Settings

Click Help & Settings and then select Settings from the drop-down menu.

Select the Backup tab and click Manage backup

Go to the Backup tab and click Manage backup.

Select folders to backup and click Start 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.

Select a file manually and copy it

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.

Paste the copied file in the OneDrive folder to create a backup

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.

File statuses in OneDrive folder

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.

Click Help & Settings and click View Online

To access files only located on OneDrive online, go to the Help & Settings drop-down menu and select View online.

Click the Settings cog and click Options

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:

restore-your-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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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.

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