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Removing TONEINS trojan from the operating system

Also Known As: TONEINS malware
Type: Trojan
Damage level: Severe

What is TONEINS?

TONEINS is the name of a backdoor malware. This software is designed to open a "backdoor" for additional malicious components or programs into compromised systems.

TONEINS, alongside TONESHELL and PUBLOAD, have been observed being distributed in cyberespionage campaigns particularly active in Asia, namely Myanmar, Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries.

These operations target a wide variety of spheres; most heavily affected are governmental and legal entities, but large-scale campaigns were also leveraged against education, academics, research, and various organizations associated or working with the Myanmar government.

The noted spam emails and the infectious documents proliferated through them - held content associated with the targeted sphere, global topics, geopolitics, controversies, or even pornography. Specifically TONEINS was heavily distributed in virulent archives files delivered via malspam.

This malicious activity is linked to the Earth Preta (aka Bronze President, Mustang Panda) group. In addition to the aforementioned malware, this group is known to employ Cobalt Strike and PlugX.

TONEINS malware detections on VirusTotal

TONEINS malware overview

There are multiple variants of TONEINS, TONESHELL, and PUBLOAD - which are linked to the same cyberespionage campaigns. There is some variation between the infection chain, abilities, and the data targeted by the malware versions. However, all of them employ anti-detection and anti-analysis techniques, such as quality obfuscation and sandbox detection.

TONEINS serves as the installer and ensures persistence for TONESHELL malware. Essentially, the former prepares the system for the latter's infiltration.

In the reviewed cyberespionage operations, TONESHELL served as the main backdoor. It operates as a Shellcode loader. This malicious program begins its operations by gathering device-related data (however, the relevant information depends on the malware's variant).

TONESHELL can exfiltrate content from infected systems by downloading system and user files. As a backdoor, it is also capable of causing chain infections by uploading and executing files. Hence, the attackers may be able to use TONESHELL to infiltrate additional trojans, ransomware, or other malware into systems.

To summarize, the presence of TONEINS on devices can result in multiple system infections, severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. However, since TONEINS has been used in political/geopolitical attacks - the potential impact of its infections can be more devastating.

If you suspect that your device has already been infected, we strongly advise you to use an anti-virus to remove all threats without delay.

Threat Summary:
Name TONEINS malware
Threat Type Trojan, Backdoor, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Detection Names (TONEINS)
Avast (Win32:Agent-BDFA [Drp]), Combo Cleaner (Gen:Variant.Zusy.434961), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Agent.AEJZ), Kaspersky (UDS:Trojan.Win32.GenericML.xnet), Microsoft (Trojan:Win32/Casdet!rfn), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
Detection Names (Distribution ZIP Archive) Avast (Win32:Agent-BDFA [Drp]), Combo Cleaner (Gen:Variant.Zusy.434961), ESET-NOD32 (Multiple Detections), Microsoft (Trojan:Win32/Casdet!rfn), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
Payload TONESHELL
Symptoms Trojans are designed to stealthily infiltrate the victim's computer and remain silent, and thus no particular symptoms are clearly visible on an infected machine.
Distribution methods Infected email attachments, malicious online advertisements, social engineering, software 'cracks'.
Damage Stolen passwords and banking information, identity theft, the victim's computer added to a botnet.
Malware Removal (Windows)

To eliminate possible malware infections, scan your computer with legitimate antivirus software. Our security researchers recommend using Combo Cleaner.
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Malware in general

We have analyzed thousands of malware samples; WASPKevinRAXNETSearchBlox, and AcridRain are just a few of our latest finds. Malicious software can have a broad range of functionalities that can be in different combinations. It likewise has a wide range of potential applications.

However, regardless of what malware is capable of or to what end it is being used - its presence on a system endangers device integrity and user safety. Therefore, all threats must be eliminated immediately upon detection.

How did TONEINS infiltrate my computer?

As mentioned in the introduction, TONEINS has been discovered being used in cyberespionage campaigns connected to the Earth Preta (Bronze President/Mustang Panda) group. These operations mainly targeted Asia with particular emphasis on governmental, legal, education, research, and similar spheres. Additionally, a large percentage of the victims were either associated or cooperating with the government of Myanmar.

The malware was delivered through email spam campaigns. The emails were typically in Burmese and included Google Drive or Dropbox links leading to archive files containing malicious documents and/or other virulent files. The emails/documents dealt with a variety of topics, e.g., relating to the targeted sphere, global news, geopolitics, controversies, and in some instances - adult-oriented content (pornography).

It is noteworthy that the spam was sent employing spoofed email addresses of genuine or legitimate-sounding entities. It is possible that some of the malspam was delivered using stolen accounts from trusted parties.

However, it is noteworthy that other distribution methods are not unlikely. Generally, malware is proliferated via malicious attachments/links in spam mail (e.g., emails, PMs/DMs, SMSes, etc.), drive-by (stealthy/deceptive) downloads, online scams, malvertising, untrustworthy download channels (e.g., freeware and free file-hosting sites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.), illegal program activation ("cracking") tools, fake updates, and so forth.

How to avoid installation of malware?

We highly recommend being cautious with incoming emails and messages. The attachments/links found in suspect mail must not be opened, as they can be malicious and cause system infections. Another recommendation is to be careful while browsing since fraudulent and dangerous online content usually appears legitimate/innocuous.

We advise downloading only from official and verified channels. Additionally, all programs must be activated and updated using functions/tools provided by genuine developers, as illegal activation tools ("cracks") and fake updaters can contain malware.

It is paramount to have a reputable anti-virus installed and kept up-to-date. Security software must be used to run regular system scans and to remove detected threats and issues. If you believe that your computer is already infected, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Screenshot of malicious archive contents carrying TONEINS trojan:

TONEINS trojan archive contents

Screenshots of the decoy documents used in TONEINS campaigns:

TONEINS trojan malicious document 1 TONEINS trojan malicious document 2

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Combo Cleaner 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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How to remove malware manually?

Manual malware removal is a complicated task - usually it is best to allow antivirus or anti-malware programs to do this automatically. To remove this malware we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.

If you wish to remove malware manually, the first step is to identify the name of the malware that you are trying to remove. Here is an example of a suspicious program running on a user's computer:

Malware process running in the Task Manager

If you checked the list of programs running on your computer, for example, using task manager, and identified a program that looks suspicious, you should continue with these steps:

manual malware removal step 1Download a program called Autoruns. This program shows auto-start applications, Registry, and file system locations:

Autoruns application appearance

manual malware removal step 2Restart your computer into Safe Mode:

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.

Run Windows 7 or Windows XP in 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.

Run Windows 8 in 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.

Run Windows 10 in Safe Mode with Networking

Video showing how to start Windows 10 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

manual malware removal step 3Extract the downloaded archive and run the Autoruns.exe file.

Extract Autoruns.zip archive and run Autoruns.exe application

manual malware removal step 4In the Autoruns application, click "Options" at the top and uncheck "Hide Empty Locations" and "Hide Windows Entries" options. After this procedure, click the "Refresh" icon.

Refresh Autoruns application results

manual malware removal step 5Check the list provided by the Autoruns application and locate the malware file that you want to eliminate.

You should write down its full path and name. Note that some malware hides process names under legitimate Windows process names. At this stage, it is very important to avoid removing system files. After you locate the suspicious program you wish to remove, right click your mouse over its name and choose "Delete".

Delete malware in Autoruns

After removing the malware through the Autoruns application (this ensures that the malware will not run automatically on the next system startup), you should search for the malware name on your computer. Be sure to enable hidden files and folders before proceeding. If you find the filename of the malware, be sure to remove it.

Search for malware and delete it

Reboot your computer in normal mode. Following these steps should remove any malware from your computer. Note that manual threat removal requires advanced computer skills. If you do not have these skills, leave malware removal to antivirus and anti-malware programs.

These steps might not work with advanced malware infections. As always it is best to prevent infection than try to remove malware later. To keep your computer safe, install the latest operating system updates and use antivirus software. To be sure your computer is free of malware infections, we recommend scanning it with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

My computer is infected with TONEINS malware, should I format my storage device to get rid of it?

No, most malicious programs can be removed without resorting to formatting.

What are the biggest issues that TONEINS malware can cause?

The threats posed by a malicious program depend on its functionalities and the cyber criminals' aims. TONEINS is a backdoor - a type of malware designed to infiltrate additional malicious components or programs (e.g., TONESHELL) into systems.

Generally, the presence of malware like TONEINS on devices can lead to multiple system infections, serious privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. It is worth noting that TONEINS has been used to carry out cyberespionage attacks - hence, the impact of these infections can be more significant.

What is the purpose of TONEINS malware?

Typically, malware is used to generate revenue. Cyber criminals also employ this software to amuse themselves, carry out personal vendettas, disrupt processes (e.g., websites, services, companies, organizations, etc.), and launch politically/geopolitically motivated attacks.

How did TONEINS malware infiltrate my computer?

TONEINS has been observed being spread via spam campaigns targeting a wide variety of spheres, especially those associated or working with the government of Myanmar. However, other distribution techniques are possible.

Malware is mainly proliferated through spam emails and messages, drive-by downloads, dubious download sources (e.g., freeware and third-party websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.), online scams, malvertising, illegal program activation tools ("cracks"), and fake updates. Furthermore, some malicious programs can self-spread via local networks and removable storage devices (e.g., USB flash drives, external hard drives, etc.).

Will Combo Cleaner protect me from malware?

Yes, Combo Cleaner is capable of detecting and eliminating most of the known malware infections. It must be mentioned that since sophisticated malicious programs usually hide deep within systems - performing a complete system scan is paramount.

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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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