Removal instructions for the SPICA backdoor-type malware

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

What kind of malware is SPICA?

SPICA is the name of a backdoor-type malware. This malicious program is written in the Rust programming language. Software within this classification stealthily opens a "backdoor" to targeted machines, typically in order to cause further infection.

SPICA has been in use since September 2023, but some evidence suggests that this backdoor has been around since at least November 2022. SPICA is believed to be the first custom-built malware developed and used by the COLDRIVER (also known as Callisto, Star Blizzard, and UNC4057) threat actor.

The operation of this group aligns with the interests of the Russian government. COLDRIVER has been around for many years, and until recently, its activities centered on phishing-based espionage.

The group targets persons of import, such as former intelligence and military officials in the West, as well as individuals associated with NATO, the Ukrainian government and army, academic spheres, and various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Previously, the group focused only on credential phishing but has expanded its activities to malware proliferation.

SPICA malware detections on VirusTotal

SPICA malware overview

As mentioned in the introduction, SPICA is designed to open a "backdoor" for infiltrating systems. Following successful infiltration, this malware establishes a connection to its C&C (Command and Control) server and takes measures to ensure its persistence.

It can receive commands from its C&C server and execute them. Some of SPICA's commands include – carrying out Shell commands and managing files. To elaborate, the program can search/browse, exfiltrate (download), and infiltrate (upload) files.

Hence, not only can SPICA steal content from devices, but it can also inject files and execute them. The latter may be used to cause further infections, i.e., download/install additional malicious programs or content.

Additionally, SPICA can extract Internet cookies from Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, and other browsers.

In summary, the presence of software like SPICA on devices may lead to multiple system infections, severe privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. It must be mentioned that the threat can be of greater significance when malware is leveraged against high-sensitivity targets.

Threat Summary:
Name SPICA malware
Threat Type Trojan, backdoor malware
Detection Names ("Proton-decrypter.exe") ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Agent.VML), Fortinet (W32/Agent.VML!tr), GData (Win64.Trojan.Agent.I75K9U), Kaspersky (Trojan.Win32.CMY3U.fls), Microsoft (Trojan:Win64/GoldTrigger!dha), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
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)

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Backdoor-type malware examples

We have researched thousands of malware samples; SysUpdateSponsor, and MQsTTang are merely a few examples of our newest articles on backdoor programs.

Malware can have a wide variety of capabilities, and this software is not limited to its classification. For instance, backdoor programs could possess stealer features, spyware could have loader functionalities, and so forth.

However, regardless of how broadly or narrowly a piece of malicious software can be applied – its presence on a system endangers device integrity and user safety. Therefore, all threats must be eliminated immediately upon detection.

How did SPICA infiltrate my computer?

The known methods used in SPICA's proliferation are the same as those employed by the COLDRIVER threat group for credential phishing. These cyber criminals establish contact with their targets (individuals linked to governmental/military positions, NATO, NGOs, etc.) under the guise of experts in affiliated or associated fields.

The impersonator accounts are used to create an impression and legitimacy, and through communication, the threat actors seek to build trust in their victims. Once a sufficient amount of trust is created, the victims are sent links or files. The lures may be the sender seeking feedback, consideration for publication, or opinions on articles, op-eds, etc.

COLDRIVER previously utilized these tactics only to push phishing websites/files that target log-in credentials or other sensitive information. However, this technique has been applied to malware distribution, including the spreading of SPICA backdoor.

The victims were sent innocent-looking PDF documents, which appeared encrypted once opened. At victims' queries regarding this, the threat actors redirected them to an alleged decryption tool (e.g., "Proton-decrypter.exe"), typically hosted on a cloud storage website. This fake decrypter carries SPICA, while also displaying a decoy document – thus continuing the masquerade of decrypting the bogus PDF.

It must be mentioned that SPICA could be spread using other techniques. Phishing and social engineering are prevalent in malware distribution. Malicious software is commonly disguised as or bundled with ordinary content. Infectious files can be archives, executables, documents, JavaScript, etc.

Widely used proliferation methods include: malicious attachments/links in spam (e.g., emails, PMs/DMs, SMSes, social media posts, etc.), drive-by (stealthy/deceptive) downloads, online scams, untrustworthy download sources (e.g., freeware and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.), pirated programs/media, illegal software activation tools ("cracks"), fake updates, and malvertising.

Furthermore, some malicious programs can self-spread through local networks and removable storage devices (e.g., external hard drives, USB flash drives, etc.).

How to avoid installation of malware?

We strongly advise treating incoming emails and other messages with caution. Attachments or links found in suspicious/irrelevant mail must not be opened, as they can be malicious. It is important to be vigilant while browsing since fraudulent and dangerous online content usually appears legitimate and innocuous.

Additionally, all downloads must be performed from official and verified channels. Another recommendation is to activate and update programs using genuine functions/tools, as those acquired from third-parties can contain malware.

We must stress the importance of having a dependable anti-virus installed and kept up-to-date. Security software must be used to run regular system scans and to remove threats. 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.

Lure document used to trick victims into opening the supposed decrypter proliferating SPICA malware:

Lure document to trick victims into executing SPICA malware disguised as a decrypter

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced IT 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 SPICA malware, should I format my storage device to get rid of it?

Malware removal rarely necessitates formatting.

What are the biggest issues that SPICA malware can cause?

The threats posed by an infection depend on the malicious program's capabilities and the cyber criminals' modus operandi. SPICA is a backdoor that may be used to cause further infections and to steal information. This malware is linked to a Russian threat actor called COLDRIVER.

Generally, malware like SPICA can cause multiple system infections, serious privacy issues, financial losses, and identity theft. However, the dangers are far more significant when malicious software is leveraged against high-sensitivity targets.

What is the purpose of SPICA malware?

While malware is primarily used to generate revenue, other goals are not uncommon. SPICA was developed and is used by COLDRIVER – a threat actor with goals that align with the interests of the Russian government. This group focuses on espionage-driven attacks leveraged against officials and high-profile individuals associated with NATO, the Ukrainian government/military, the academic sphere, various NGOs, etc. Hence, it is evident that SPICA attacks are geopolitically motivated.

How did SPICA malware infiltrate my computer?

SPICA has been spread using sophisticated social engineering. The threat actors established a rapport with their victims under the guise of relevant field experts or other persons of note. The victims were then sent links or files, and the process culminated in the infiltration of SPICA. However, other techniques are not unlikely.

Generally, malware is distributed using spam (e.g., emails, PMs/DMs, SMSes, social media posts, etc.), drive-by (stealthy/deceptive) downloads, dubious download channels (e.g., freeware and third-party sites, P2P sharing networks, etc.), malvertising, online scams, illegal software activation tools ("cracks"), and fake updates. Some malicious programs can even self-spread via local networks and removable storage devices.

Will Combo Cleaner protect me from malware?

Yes, Combo Cleaner is designed to scan computers and eliminate all manner of threats. It is capable of removing nearly all unknown malware infections. Note that performing a full system scan is essential since high-end malicious software usually hides deep within systems.

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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.

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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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