How to uninstall PwndLocker ransomware

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

PwndLocker ransomware removal instructions

What is PwndLocker?

Research shows that cyber criminals behind PwndLocker ransomware target business networks and local governments. PwndLocker encrypts files with the RSA-2048 encryption algorithm and creates a ransom message within a text file named "H0w_T0_Rec0very_Files.txt", which can be found in folders that contain encrypted data. Like most programs of this type, PwndLocker renames encrypted files by appending an extension. At the time of research, it appended the ".key" and ".pwnd" extensions. Therefore, PwndLocker appends varying extensions in different cases. For example, in one case it renames a file such as "1.jpg" to "1.jpg.key", and in another, it renames the file to "1.jpg.pwnd", and so on. Note that this ransomware does not encrypt all files - it leaves files with certain extensions unaffected. It also skips files that are located in certain folders.

Research shows that this ransomware can perform part of the encryption by attempting to disable various Windows services. For example, Acronis, Backup Exec, Exchange, Internet Information Server, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Veeam, Zoolz. It also attempts to delete Shadow Volume copies and terminate AV solution (e.g., Kaspersky, McAfee, Malwarebytes, Sophos) processes and services. Research shows that PwndLocker targets Microsoft Excel, Word and Mozilla Firefox processes as well. It then encrypts files and creates ransom messages. The message within the "H0w_T0_Rec0very_Files.txt" text file and Tor website (which can be accessed through this file) states that only the cyber criminals behind PwndLocker can provide decryption tools/keys. It is stated that the cost depends on the network size, number of employees and annual revenue. Instructions about how to purchase the tools/keys are provided in the Tor website or can be received by contacting cyber criminals via the help0f0ry0u@protonmail.com email address. It is mentioned that victims who contact PwndLocker's developers within two days can purchase the decryption tool/key for a reduced sum. Decryption keys are stored for one month and the cost of these is doubled after two weeks of encryption. Victims are also informed that some of their sensitive information will be shared on social networks and public media, unless they pay the ransom within a few days. Victims can find the cost of the decryption key on the Tor payment website. In our example, the cost of decryption is 60 Bitcoins. Only the cyber criminals behind ransomware-type programs have tools that can decrypt files compromised by their ransomware, however, victims who pay them are often scammed - they do not receive any decryption tools/keys, even after payment. Files remain encrypted even if victims uninstall ransomware from the operating system - removal simply prevents it from causing further encryption. Victims of ransomware attacks might be able to recover files free of charge by restoring them from a backup, if one was made prior to the infection.

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

PwndLocker decrypt instructions (H0w_T0_Rec0very_Files.txt)

Rezm, Sorena and Kiss are some examples of other ransomware infections. Typically, programs of this type block access to files by encryption and create/display ransom messages. Main variables are cost of decryption tools/keys and cryptographic algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) that ransomware uses to encrypt files. It is generally impossible to decrypt files without specific tools held only by the developers of the ransomware, unless the ransomware has bugs/flaws. Therefore, maintain backups on remote servers and/or unplugged storage devices such as Cloud.

How did ransomware infect my computer?

It is not known exactly how cyber criminals proliferate PwndLocker ransomware, however,  malicious software is commonly distributed via Trojans, spam campaigns/emails, untrusted file and software download channels, software 'cracking' tools and fake updaters. Trojans install other programs of this kind (malware). In this way, they cause chain infections, however, Trojans infect operating systems only if they are already installed. Cyber criminals often attempt to proliferate malicious software by sending emails that contain malicious files. For example, Microsoft Office, PDF documents, executable files (.exe), archive files such as RAR, ZIP and JavaScript files. They send the emails to trick recipients into opening the attachment (or file that was downloaded through an included website link). When opened, the files install malicious software. Peer-to-Peer networks such as torrent clients, eMule, free file hosting websites, third party downloaders, freeware download pages, unofficial websites, etc., are often used to host and distribute malicious files. Typically, they are disguised as harmless and legitimate. When downloaded and opened/executed, however, the files install malware. Unofficial activation ('cracking') tools are used by people who seek to activate licensed software free of charge, however, they can infect computers with high-risk malware - rather than bypassing activation, they install malicious programs. Unofficial updating tools cause damage by installing malware rather than updating installed software, or by exploiting bugs/flaws of outdated software.

Threat Summary:
Name PwndLocker virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker.
Encrypted Files Extension .key, .pwnd
Ransom Demand Messages H0w_T0_Rec0very_Files.txt and Tor website.
Ransom Amount Depends on the network size, number of employees, annual revenue and how quickly cyber criminals are contacted.
Bitcoin Wallet Address 1CdKmGKqeYqQ2R36wbj5PMSpKxMtN7L5ty
Cyber Criminal Contact help0f0ry0u@protonmail.com
Detection Names Avast (Win32:Evo-gen [Susp]), BitDefender (Trojan.Peed.Gen), Emsisoft (Trojan.Peed.Gen (B)), Microsoft (Trojan:Win32/Wacatac.D!ml), 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 ransomware attempts to stop various services and processes before encrypting files. It leaves files with certain extensions unencrypted and skips certain folders/locations.
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

Do not open files or links that are included in emails without being sure that it is safe to do so. If an email is received from a suspicious, unknown address, is irrelevant and contains an attachment or website link, do not trust it. All software should be downloaded from official web pages and via direct links. Other tools, channels (like Peer-to-Peer networks, third party downloaders, unofficial pages, etc.) should not be trusted - they are used to proliferate malicious files and programs. Update installed software through implemented functions or tools that are designed by official developers. The same applies to activation. Note that it is illegal to activate licensed software with various third party tools. Regularly scan the operating system for threats with a reputable antivirus or anti-spyware suite. Keep this software up to date and remove detected threats immediately. If your computer is already infected with PwndLocker, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in PwndLocker ransomware text file ("H0w_T0_Rec0very_Files.txt"):

Your network have been penetrated and encrypted with a strong algorythm
Backups were either removed or encrypted
No one can help you to recover the network except us
Do not share this link or email. Otherwise, we will have to delete the decryption keys

To get your files back you have to pay the decryption fee in BTC.
The price depends on the network size, number of employess and annual revenue.

Download TOR-Browser: hxxps://www.torproject.org/download/
Login ax3spapdymip4jpy.onion using your ID -
or
contact our support by email help0f0ry0u@protonmail.com           
You'll receive instructions inside.
You should get in contact with us within 2 days after you noticed the encryption to have a good discount.

The decryption key will be stored for 1 month.
The price will be increased by 100% in two weeks
We also have gathered your sensitive data.
We would share it in case you refuse to pay

Do not rename or move encrypted files
Decryption using third party software is impossible.
Attempts to self-decrypting files will result in the loss of your data.

Appearance of Tor website (GIF):

pwndlocker ransomware appearance of the tor website

Text in the Tor website:

Hello, you are a victim of ransomware.

Your files have been encrypted using RSA2048 alogithm.

This algorithm is one of the strongest, it is impossible to decrypt files without known key.

As you understand, situation is very important. You can restore all files by following instructions in h0w_t0_rec0very_files.txt file.

You can decrypt 1-2 files for free as a proof of work.

We know that this computer is very valuable for you.

So we will give you appropriate price for recovering.

DON'T try to change files by yourself, DON'T use any third party software for restoring your data or antivirus solutions - these actions may entail damage of the private key and, as result, the loss of all your data.

All your sensitive data was downloaded on remote servers. If you do not pay in several days all these sensitive files will be published in social networks and public media.

To get your files unlocked, please pay.

If you want to make test unlock, please contact support.
Payment information
60 BTC

UNPAID

Send 60 BTC (in ONE payment) to:
don't include transaction fee in this amount
1CdKmGKqeYqQ2R36wbj5PMSpKxMtN7L5ty
Available once every 12 hours

Screenshot of files encrypted by PwndLocker (".key" extension):

Files encrypted by PwndLocker ransomware (.key extension)

Screenshot of files encrypted by PwndLocker (".pwnd" extension):

Files encrypted by PwndLocker ransomware (.pwnd extension)

List of file extensions that PwndLocker does NOT target:

.bac, .bak, .bat, .bkf, .chm, .cmd, .dll, .dsk, .exe, .hlf, .ico, .inf, .ini, .lng, .lnk, .msi, .set, .sys, .ttf, .vhd, .wbc, .win.

List of locations (folders) that PwndLocker skips while encrypting files:

Adobe, All Users, Common Files, DVD Maker, Internet Explorer, Kaspersky Lab, Kaspersky Lab, Setup Files, MSBuild, Microsoft, Microsoft.NET, Microsoft_Corporation, Mozilla Firefox, Packages, PerfLogs, Recycle Bin, System Volume Information, Temp, Uninstall Information, Windows, Windows Defender, Windows Mail, Windows Media Player, Windows NT, Windows Photo Viewer, Windows Portable Devices, Windows Sidebar, WindowsApps, WindowsPowerShell

Update 6 March 2020 - Emsisoft has recently discovered a significant PwndLocker ransomware flaw, which allows people to decrypt data without the involvement of the ransomware developers. It is necessary, however, to obtain the malicious executable that infected the machine and encrypted the data. Unfortunately, the ransomware is designed to delete itself once the job is complete. Despite this problem, it might be possible to recover it by using Shadow Volume Copies. The malicious executable is typically stored in the "%Temp%", "%Appdata%" or "C:\User" folder. Victims who have successfully found the executable should contact Emsisoft for further assistance. More details regarding this flaw can be found in Lawrence Abram's article posted on the Bleeping Computer site.

PwndLocker 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:

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 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.

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 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).

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EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro

By downloading any software listed on this website you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Trial version of EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro is capable of scanning drives and listing recoverable files - to restore them, you must purchase a license.

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: Scanning the storage drive with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard PRO (step 1)

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: Scanning the storage drive with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard PRO (step 2)

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: Recovering data with EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro

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: Saving scan session in EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro

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.

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EaseUS Todo Backup

By downloading any software listed on this website you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. To use full-featured product, you have to purchase a license for EaseUS Todo Backup. 30 days free trial available.

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": Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 1)

Select the files you want to backup. You can also enter a name and description of the backup that will be created: Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 2)

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: Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 3)

Select the settings you want to change and click "Save". You can also reset your changes by clicking "Reset to initial settings": Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 4)

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: Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 5)

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: Creating data backups with EaseUS Todo Backup tool (step 6)

The best way to avoid damage from ransomware infections is to maintain regular up-to-date backups.

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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