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How to uninstall the Hard ransomware?

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

Hard ransomware removal instructions

What is Hard?

Ransomware is a type of malware that cybercriminals use to block victims from accessing their files. It encrypts files and keeps them unusable/inaccessible until they are decrypted with the key of software that the attackers encourage to purchase from them. Hard ransomware encrypts and renames files. It appends the ".hard" extension to their filenames. For instance, it renames "1.jpg" to "1.jpg.hard", "2.jpg" to "2.jpg.hard", and so on. Hard also creates the "RESTORE_FILES_INFO.txt" text file (ransom note) in each folder that has encrypted data in it.

In most cases, ransomware creates (or displays) a ransom note to inform victims how to contact the attackers, pay a ransom and provide details like the price of a decryption software (or key), how much time victims have to pay up, etc. Hard's ransom note ("RESTORE_FILES_INFO.txt") instructs victims to send the assigned ID via email (harditem@firemail.cc or harditem@hitler.rocks) or Jabber (harditem@xmpp.jp). Typically, after contacting the attackers, victims receive payment details (the amount of cryptocurrency they have to pay and where to transfer it/what cryptocurrency wallet address to use to make the payment). Usually, it is nearly impossible to decrypt files without the right decryption key or software. Unfortunately, only cybercriminals behind the Hard ransomware have the decryption tool (there is no free third-party tool that could decrypt Hard's encryption).

Typically, ransomware victims have two data recovery options: restore files from a backup that has been created before the attack or pay cybercriminals for a decryption tool and hope that they will send it. The problem with the second option is that victims who trust cybercriminals tend to get scammed - they do not receive any decryption key or program even if they pay for it. For this reason, it is not advisable to pay a ransom to any ransomware developers or distributors. One more important detail about ransomware is that it should be uninstalled from the infected computer as soon as possible. Otherwise, it may encrypt new files or infect computers connected to the same network as the already infected one.

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

Hard decrypt instructions (RESTORE_FILES_INFO.txt)

Most ransomware variants are more or less similar: their main purpose is to encrypt files and provide victims instructions on how to contact the attackers, pay a ransom, and other details. The main differences between ransomware variants are encryption algorithms that they use to lock (encrypt) files and the price of the decryption tool (software, key). In most cases, it is impossible to decrypt files without having to use the decryption tools that can be purchased only from the attackers. Data can be recovered for free when ransomware has some vulnerabilities, there is a free decryption tool available for download on the Internet, or victims have a data backup. As a rule, recovery from a data backup is the only free option. Therefore, it is recommended to create data backups on a regular basis and keep them on a remote server like Cloud or an unplugged storage device. More ransomware examples are Enfp, Hog and Secure (Thanos).

How did ransomware infect my computer?

The most popular ways to distribute malware are through phishing campaigns (emails), fake software updaters, questionable channels for downloading programs, Trojans, and unofficial software activation ('cracking') tools. Emails can be used to spread malicious programs through attachments, or website links. More precisely, through malicious Microsoft Office or PDF documents, JavaScript files, executable files like .exe, archive files like ZIP, RAR, or other files. When recipients open those attachments (or downloads that came via website links in emails), they infect computers with malware. Fake software updaters cause damage by exploiting flaws, bugs of outdated software (that is installed on a computer), or by installing malicious software instead of updating, fixing the installed one.

Peer-to-Peer networks (e.g., torrent clients, eMule), download websites for freeware, free file hosting pages, third-party downloaders, unofficial websites, etc., are used to distribute malware via malicious files that are disguised as legitimate. Cybercriminals use those sources to trick users into downloading and opening malicious files that install malicious software once they are executed. Certain Trojans can be designed to distribute other programs of this kind. Therefore, if a Trojan is installed on a system, it is very likely that it will cause the installation of ransomware or other high-risk malware. If used to bypass activation of licensed software, software 'cracking' tools can infect systems as well. Quite often, cybercriminals bundle such tools with malware and wait for someone to try to illegally activate software with them.

Threat Summary:
Name Hard virus
Threat Type Ransomware, Crypto Virus, Files locker
Encrypted Files Extension .hard
Ransom Demanding Message RESTORE_FILES_INFO.txt
Cyber Criminal Contact harditem@firemail.cc, harditem@hitler.rocks, or harditem@xmpp.jp on Jabber
Detection Names Avast (Win32:Trojan-gen), BitDefender (Gen:Variant.Bulz.394292), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of MSIL/Filecoder.Thanos.A), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan-Ransom.MSIL.Encoder.gen), Microsoft (Trojan:Win32/Wacatac.B!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.
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?

It is strongly recommended to avoid opening downloads from untrustworthy sites, Peer-to-Peer networks, third-party downloaders, etc. Downloads are safe to open when they are downloaded from official, legitimate pages and via direct links. Also, it is advisable not to open attachments or website links in irrelevant emails that are received from suspicious or unknown senders. Also, it is important to keep the installed programs ans the operating system up to date. It should be updated and activated using implemented functions or tools from its official developers, and never with some unofficial/third-party tools. It is common for those tools to be bundled with malware. Also, it is illegal to bypass software activation using those tools (and use hacked, pirated software). Additionally, it is advisable to scan the operating system for viruses regularly, and do it using a reputable antivirus or ant-spyware software (and keep it up to date). If your computer is already infected with Hard, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate this ransomware.

Text presented in Hard ransomware's text file :

Your files are secured...    
Contact emails:  harditem@firemail.cc  and  harditem@hitler.rocks (spare) or jabber harditem@xmpp.jp     
Send me your ID in the first email to all specified addresses     


Key Identifier:
-

Screenshot of files encrypted by Hard (".hard" extension):

Files encrypted by Hard ransomware (.hard extension)

Hard ransomware removal:

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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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