How to uninstall .HOW ransomware from a computer?

Also Known As: .HOW virus
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Severe

.HOW ransomware removal instructions

What is .HOW ransomware?

.HOW belongs to the family of ransomware called Dharma. This malware encrypts files, changes their filenames and generates ransom notes. It renames encrypted files by adding the victim's ID, how_decrypt@aol.com email address and appending the ".HOW" extension to their filenames. For example, it renames "1.jpg" to "1.jpg.id-1E857D00.[how_decrypt@aol.com].HOW", "2.jpg" to "2.jpg.id-1E857D00.[how_decrypt@aol.com].HOW", and so on. Instructions on how to contact cyber criminals behind .HOW are in a displayed pop-up window and text file named "FILES ENCRYPTED.txt". This ransomware was discovered by Jakub Kroustek.

According to the ransom note (in a displayed pop-up window) victims can restore their files by following the instructions that can be received by writing an email to how_decrypt@aol.com or howdecrypt@aol.com. When contacted, cyber criminals supposed to provide details such as price of a decryption, how to pay for it, etc. Like most malware of this type, .HOW encrypts files with a strong encryption algorithm, it means that the only way to decrypt files is to use a certain decryption tool. Typically, cyber criminals behind ransomware are the only ones who have it. Unfortunately, there are no other tools that could decrypt files encrypted by .HOW as well. It is common that victims who pay a ransom get scammed - cyber criminals do not send them any decryption software and/or key. Therefore, it is strongly recommended not to trust any cyber criminals. In such cases data loss can be avoided by restoring files from a backup. Also, it is possible to prevent installed ransomware from causing any further encryptions by uninstalling it. Although, its uninstallation does not make any files that are already encrypted accessible - they remain encrypted even after removal of ransomware.

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

.HOW decrypt instructions (pop-up window)

Examples of other malware that is classified as ransomware are Credo, Fob and Moba. Typically, ransomware is designed to block access to files by encrypting them and create and/or display some ransom note (or notes). Two main and most common variables are encryption algorithm (symmetric or asymmetric) that is used to encrypt data and price of a decryption tool and/or key. The biggest problem with having a computer infected with ransomware is that files cannot be decrypted without tools that only cyber criminals have. It is possible to decrypt files without their tools only if ransomware has some bugs, flaws. Although, it does not happen often. That is why it is important to always have a data backup up and store it on a remote server (like Cloud) and/or some unplugged storage device.

How did ransomware infect my computer?

One of the ways to deceive users into installing ransomware or other type of is by sending emails that contain a malicious attachment or website link. Malware gets installed when recipients open/execute the attached or downloaded malicious file. In most cases cyber criminals send emails attach some malicious Microsoft Office document, PDF document, executable file like .exe, archive file like ZIP, RAR, or JavaScript file. Another way to infect operating systems with such software is to trick users into installing some Trojan first. Trojan is a type of malware that can be designed to cause chain infections - to install other malware, e.g., ransomware. Fake software updaters can be designed to cause installation of malicious software too. When used, such tools infect systems by installing malicious software instead of updates, or by exploiting bugs, flaws of outdated software that is installed on user's computer. Untrustworthy software download channels such as freeware download websites, free file hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer networks (e.g., torrent clients, eMule), various third party downloaders are channels that can be used as tools to distribute malicious files. When users execute malicious files that were downloaded through such channels, they cause installation of malware. Typically, malicious files are disguised as legitimate. It is worthwhile to mention that third party installers can cause installation of malicious software too. One more way to distribute various malware is through unofficial software activators ('cracking' tools). These are the tools that supposed to activate licensed software for free, however, it is common that they install some malicious program instead.

Threat Summary:
Name .HOW virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker
Encrypted Files Extension .HOW
Ransom Demanding Message Pop-up window, FILES ENCRYPTED.txt
Cyber Criminal Contact how_decrypt@aol.com, howdecrypt@aol.com
Detection Names Avast (Win32:RansomX-gen [Ransom]), BitDefender (Trojan.Ransom.Crysis.E), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Filecoder.Crysis.P), Kaspersky (Trojan-Ransom.Win32.Crusis.to), 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.
▼ Download Malwarebytes
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How to protect yourself from ransomware infections?

Attachments and/or website links in irrelevant emails that are received from unknown, suspicious addresses should not be trusted (opened). It is common that such emails are sent with a purpose to proliferate malware. Software, files should be downloaded from official websites and via direct links. It is not safe to use any other channels (e.g., unofficial websites, Peer-to-Peer networks, third party downloaders, etc.). Installed programs must be updated and/or activated with tools and/or functions that are designed by official software developers. None of the third party, unofficial activators, updaters are trustworthy. Also, it is not legal to use such tools to activate licensed software. One more way to keep a computer safe is to regularly scan it for threats with a reputable antivirus or anti-spyware suite. If your computer is already infected with .HOW, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in .HOW ransomware's pop-up window:

YOUR FILES ARE ENCRYPTED
Don't worry,you can return all your files!
If you want to restore them, follow this link:email how_decrypt@aol.com YOUR ID -
If you have not been answered via the link within 12 hours, write to us by e-mail:howdecrypt@aol.com
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 .HOW's text file ("FILES ENCRYPTED.txt"):

.HOW ransomware text file (FILES ENCRYPTED.txt)

Text in this note:

all your data has been locked us
You want to return?
write email how_decrypt@aol.com or howdecrypt@aol.com

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

Files encrypted by .HOW ransomware (.HOW extension)

.HOW 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 .HOW 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 .HOW 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 .HOW 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 .HOW 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 .HOW, 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 .HOW 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, and 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 .HOW 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
.HOW 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 .HOW virus on your mobile device.
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