PALQ ransomware uses encryption to prevent you from accessing your own files
- PALQ ransomware uses encryption to prevent you from accessing your own files
- How does this ransomware infect computers?
- How this ransomware operates: technical details
- Remove PALQ Ransomware Virus and Recover Your Files
- Decrypt PALQ files
- Frequently Asked Questions
PALQ ransomware is a highly dangerous computer virus that is recognized as the 345th variant from STOP/DJVU ransomware family. The sole aim of this malware is to use military-grade encryption algorithm to lock victim’s data stored on a computer and demand a ransom. During the attack, the ransomware marks each file with a supplementary .palq extension. For instance, a file originally named 1.jpg becomes 1.jpg.palq after the cyberattack. On top of that, the virus operators leave a message in every folder in a form of a _readme.txt ransom note, which suggests that paying cyber attackers a ransom is the sole way of obtaining PALQ decryption tool.
The sole aim of PALQ ransomware is to extort victims after illegally locking their files – therefore, after doing their damage to your data, they leave a ransom-demanding _readme.txt note in various computer locations. The message in it says that all documents such as images, videos, documents, databases, project files and other file types have been encrypted with military-grade encryption algorithm. Although not mentioned in the note, the virus uses Salsa20 + RSA-2048 encryption type. The note tells that the victim should rush to write to the attackers via provided email addresses which are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to get further instructions on how to pay and decrypt data.
The criminals promise to provide a 50% discount on the initial ransom price which means that the decryption would cost $490 in that case. However, only victims who write to attackers within 72 hours from the initial infection timestamp are eligible for the discount. If delayed any longer, the ransom price will be $980. The criminals only accept virtual currency such as Bitcoin, as it helps to keep the transactions untraceable. If the victim writes to them, they will respond with instructions how to purchase cryptocurrency and on which websites one can do it. The crooks will also provide their wallet address where exact money amount should be transferred.
The ransom note also informs that the attackers can provide a proof that they can decrypt your files. The victim can send one encrypted file for them and receive a decrypted version in return. However, the ransom note mentions that the test file should not contain any valuable information, otherwise the criminals won’t send the original version to the victim. In other words, they do not want to provide the victim with anything that would refrain him/her from paying the ransom.
Cybersecurity professionals from our team recommend you to avoid paying ransoms to cybercriminals. The same is suggested by FBI. Please remember that no matter what the offenders promise you, you cannot trust their words. Their main goal is to convince you to transfer money for them, so after seeing the transaction in their account they can simply move on to harass another victim. Moreover, when computer users pay them, they get the funds to expand their illegal operations by employing more people, distributors and so on. These greedy criminals earn millions by collecting ransoms annually, and such large sums of money is something that attracts other people to join or start such illegal business model. The only way to put an end to ransomware existence is to stop paying up.
Data encryption and encryption isn’t the only trouble caused by these criminals. You should be aware of the fact that STOP/DJVU ransomware variants often download more malware to victim’s computer, typically silent information-stealing Trojans. Two of these Trojans have been observed in STOP/DJVU attacks and they’re named AZORULT and VIDAR. These Trojans have a lengthy list of functionalities, but probably the most worrisome of them is that it allows cybercriminals to execute illegal commands on your computer to steal private data. For example, these threats can be controlled to steal your saved account passwords and history from web browsers, also cryptocurrency wallets, banking details and similar. Needless to say, such information can be easily used to blackmail you and try to swindle even more money from you.
In case your computer was compromised, we strongly recommend you to remove PALQ ransomware virus whenever you can. First of all, we suggest checking if you have an antivirus software and updating its database first. If you do not have one yet, consider using INTEGO Antivirus. You can read its review here. For additional virus damage scan, you may want to download RESTORO, which is designed to repair Windows OS files. Make sure you run the software in Safe Mode with Networking (you can find a guide on how to do it below the article).
|Name||PALQ Ransomware Virus|
|Type||Ransomware; Crypto-malware; Virtual Extortion Virus|
|Encryption type||RSA 2048 + Salsa20|
|Previous versions||KCVP, KCBU, TCBU, UYRO, ZATP, ZATE (find full list here)|
|Cybercriminal firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com|
|Additional malware dropped||Azorult or Vidar Trojan|
|Damage||The ransomware breaks into computer disguised as a software crack or keygen, then it launches its processes and begins encrypting all files on the target system. The virus also marks each encrypted file with .palq extension. Simultaneously it leaves _readme.txt in every folder. To prevent the victim from easy data rescue from System Restore Points, the virus eliminates Volume Shadow Copies. Furthermore, the malware edits Windows HOSTS file to block victim’s access to a list of websites providing cybersecurity related information. This virus might also infect your computer with AZORULT Trojan or VIDAR.|
|Ransom demand||$490-$980 in Bitcoin|
|Distribution||Victims often download this ransomware along illegal torrent downloads, cracked software, activators, key generators or tools like KMSPico.|
|Known software cracks to contain this malware||Corel Draw, Tenorshare 4ukey, Adobe Photoshop, Cubase, Adobe Illustrator, Internet Download Manager, Tally, League of Legends.|
|Detection names||Trojan:Win32/Krypter.AA!MTB (Microsoft), Gen:Variant.Fragtor.36858 (B) (Emsisoft), UDS:Trojan.Win32.Scarsi.gen (Kaspersky), Gen:Variant.Fragtor.36858 (BitDefender), MachineLearning/Anomalous.95% (Malwarebytes), Packed.Generic.528 (Symantec) see all detection name variations on VirusTotal|
|Removal||Remove ransomware and related malware from your PC using professional software of your choice. We highly recommend using INTEGO Antivirus. To repair virus damage on Windows OS files, consider scanning with RESTORO.|
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How does this ransomware infect computers?
Ransomware variants from STOP/DJVU family, including PALQ virus can be found in torrent downloads containing software cracks, keygens and other tools used to activate full software versions for free. In order to get their hands on premium software versions without paying the license fee, users often download these torrents from several online sources to see which one actually works. This only increases the risk of infecting the computer with multiple malware variants as these downloads rarely come without malicious additions. Moreover, another bad habit that these computer users have is ignoring their security software warnings due to popular misconception that antivirus programs mark anything containing a crack as malware. Although this sometimes can be true, it is better to avoid downloading such files as it simply is a copyright infringement act.
Users infected with STOP/DJVU variants report noticing their files encrypted after downloading torrents for these popular programs and games:
- Adobe Photoshop;
- Adobe Illustrator;
- Opera browser;
- Fifa 20;
- Tenorshare 4ukey;
- Corel Draw;
- VMware Workstation;
- League of Legends;
- Internet Download Manager;
- KMSPico (illegal Windows activation tool).
Trying to download pirated software copies via peer-to-peer file sharing clients can lead to computer contamination not only with ransomware, but also threats like Trojans, viruses, keyloggers, backdoors or cryptocurrency miners. For this reason, we strongly recommend looking for legitimate software versions on their official developer’s or trusted partner’s websites only. Believe us when we say that software licenses rarely cost more than hefty ransom amounts demanded by cybercriminals.
Malvertising is another technique that allows offenders to distribute dangerous viruses like ransomware. Websites often place advertisements to generate revenue, although some of them use advertising networks that promote shady content. These websites hardly ever promote trustworthy or legitimate content themselves. Cybercriminals often target these ad networks and try to inject a malicious code leading to a malware payload. Clicking on a malicious ad can redirect you to dangerous online resources and infect your computer with severe malware. Therefore, it is best to avoid websites that trigger extremely annoying ads, especially ones that open an ad in new tab or pop-up window after clicking a button or a link in the website. Keeping a robust antivirus on your computer is also recommended to stop these attacks – make sure you use one that provides real-time protection 24/7.
The attackers often use email spoofing techniques that can help to show you a different sender’s address and not the one that was actually used to send the message. We recommend you to read more about it and how you can identify spoofed email addresses here.
Our general recommendation is to avoid opening emails that you weren’t supposed to receive (for instance, do not open emails stating you ordered something online when you didn’t do it). You may also want to look for suspicious details such as unfamiliar greeting line or grammar mistakes in the message.
Finally, victims of this ransomware should be careful because there are a lot of fake STOP/DJVU decryption tools used to spread other file-encrypting malware strains such as ZORAB. If you’re looking for a legitimate guide on possibilities to decrypt or repair your files, see the guide on our website.
How this ransomware operates: technical details
If you’re interested in technical details about PALQ ransomware virus, this section is for you. It explains how the ransomware operates and what it actually does once it lands on your computer.
First of all, the ransomware unveils its operations with a set of build.exe, build2.exe and build3.exe processes. It collects information about user’s computer hardware, software installed and other details such as computer name and operating system version and saves the extracted data into information.txt file. The virus also sends this file to criminals’ Command&Control server.
Another preparation task done by this virus is checking whether victim’s computer is from a country that can be attacked. The virus has a set of exception country codes and in order to check whether the target host can be attacked, the virus connects to https[:]//api.2ip.ua/geo.json and saves the response to geo.json or geo.json file. This file contains information about user’s IP address, country, zip code, longitude and latitude, time zone. In case the infected host is based in Russian Federation, Syria, Armenia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Kazachstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan or Belarus, the virus terminates itself. A screenshot of such file is shown in the image below.
Once the ransomware decides that data the infected host can be encrypted, it then launches a fake Windows update window (winupdate.exe) to deceive the victim and justify the system slowdown. The ransomware also connects to its server to obtain a unique encryption key and personal ID to assign for the victim. If the virus succeeds to do so, it saves these details to bowsakkdestx.txt file and PersonalID.txt file on the computer. If the malware fails to obtain the key from the server, it uses offline encryption key instead (this key is hardcoded in the ransomware version itself).
Victims affected by offline key have a chance of recovering their data for free, although they have to wait until an appropriate decryption key gets discovered. You can read more about it here. You can check whether you were affected by offline key by looking at PersonalID.txt file. If the string here ends in t1, it means you were affected by offline key. If not, it means that online key was used.
The ransomware then encrypts all victim’s files using Salsa20 algorithm and secures the key used in this attack with RSA-2048 key additionally. At this point, the virus marks all files with additional extension and leaves _readme.txt files in each folder.
You can see _readme.txt note screenshot down below.
To prevent the victim from using System Restore Points to recover some data, the virus runs a Command Line task to delete Volume Shadow Copies from the system:
vssadmin.exe Delete Shadows /All /Quiet
To cause even more frustration for the computer user, this ransomware attempts to block access to various websites providing malware removal guides, cybersecurity news or forums where users can discuss computer problems or malware-related questions. The virus edits Windows HOSTS file by adding a list of website names and mapping them to localhost IP. This causes DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN error to appear in web browser when the victim attempts to visit one of the blocked websites from the list.
Finally, the ransomware leaves additional viruses on the system. Two known malware variants distributed along this ransomware are AZORULT and VIDAR, both used to steal login credentials, browsing history, banking details, Steam and Telegram login information and other sensitive details.
Remove PALQ Ransomware Virus and Recover Your Files
If you’ve become a victim of a ransomware attack, it is important to eradicate the malicious programs and related files from the system immediately. Keeping them on the system leaves your PC vulnerable to further attacks or even allows attackers to spy on you. To remove PALQ ransomware virus and other threats professionally, we advise using powerful antivirus software. One of such choices is INTEGO Antivirus, which provides real-time protection and monitors your network traffic to identify potential threats. Afterward, we suggest downloading RESTORO to repair virus damage on affected Windows OS files. Make sure you follow the guidelines provided below this article to boot your computer in Safe Mode with Networking before running malware removal programs.
Once PALQ virus removal is complete, do not forget to inform your local law enforcement agency about the cyber attack. If you had a data backup, plug it to your computer (only when you’re sure all malware was removed successfully). Additionally, we suggest reading this guide carefully to understand your options regarding data decryption and repair. Finally, we suggest changing your passwords for all accounts that were saved in your browser and also for various software installed on your computer.
OUR GEEKS RECOMMEND
Our team recommends a two-step rescue plan to remove ransomware and other remaining malware from your computer, plus repair caused virus damage to the system:
PALQ Ransomware Virus Removal Guidelines
Method 1. Enter Safe Mode with Networking
Step 1. Start Windows in Safe Mode with Networking
Before you try to remove PALQ Ransomware Virus virus, you must start your computer in Safe Mode with Networking. Below, we provide the easiest ways to boot PC in the said mode, but you can find additional ones in this in-depth tutorial on our website – How to Start Windows in Safe Mode. Also, if you prefer a video version of the tutorial, check our guide How to Start Windows in Safe Mode on Youtube.
Instructions for Windows XP/Vista/7 users
- First of all, turn off your PC. Then press the Power button to start it again and instantly start pressing F8 button on your keyboard repeatedly in 1-second intervals. This launches the Advanced Boot Options menu.
- Use arrow keys on the keyboard to navigate down to Safe Mode with Networking option and press Enter.
Instructions for Windows 8/8.1/10/11 users
- Open Windows Start menu, then press down the Power button. On your keyboard, press down and hold the Shift key, and then select Restart option.
- This will take you to Windows Troubleshoot screen. Choose Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Startup Settings > Restart. Tip: If you can't find Startup Settings, click See more recovery options.
- In Startup Settings, press the right key between F1-F9 to enter Safe Mode with Networking. In this case, it is the F5 key.
Step 2. Remove files associated with the virus
Now, you can search for and remove PALQ Ransomware Virus files. It is very hard to identify files and registry keys that belong to the ransomware virus, Besides, malware creators tend to rename and change them repeatedly. Therefore, the easiest way to uninstall such type of a computer virus is to use a reliable security program such as INTEGO Antivirus. For virus damage repair, consider using RESTORO.
Compatibility: Microsoft Windows
See Full Review
RESTORO is a unique PC Repair Tool which comes with an in-built Avira scan engine to detect and remove spyware/malware threats and uses a patented technology to repair virus damage. The software can repair damaged, missing or malfunctioning Windows OS files, corrupted DLLs, and more. The free version offers a scan that detects issues. To fix them, license key for the full software version must be purchased.
Method 2. Use System Restore
In order to use System Restore, you must have a system restore point, created either manually or automatically.
Step 1. Boot Windows in Safe Mode with Command Prompt
Instructions for Windows XP/Vista/7 users
- Shut down your PC. Start it again by pressing the Power button and instantly start pressing F8 button on your keyboard repeatedly in 1-second intervals. You will see Advanced Boot Options menu.
- Using arrow keys on the keyboard, navigate down to Safe Mode with Command Prompt option and press Enter.
Instructions for Windows 8/8.1/10/11 users
- Launch Windows Start menu, then click the Power button. On your keyboard, press down and hold the Shift key, and then choose Restart option with the mouse cursor.
- This will take you to Windows Troubleshoot screen. Choose Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Startup Settings > Restart. Tip: If you can't find Startup Settings, click See more recovery options.
- In Startup Settings, press the right key between F1-F9 to enter Safe Mode with Command Prompt. In this case, press F6 key.
Step 2. Start System Restore process
- Wait until system loads and command prompt shows up.
- Type cd restore and press Enter, then type rstrui.exe and press Enter. Or you can just type %systemroot%system32restorerstrui.exe in command prompt and hit Enter.
- This launches System Restore window. Click Next and then choose a System Restore point created in the past. Choose one that was created before ransomware infection.
- Click Yes to begin the system restoration process.
After restoring the system, we recommend scanning the system with antivirus or anti-malware software. In most cases, there won't be any malware remains, but it never hurts to double-check. In addition, we highly recommend checking ransomware prevention guidelines provided by our experts in order to protect your PC against similar viruses in the future.
Alternative software recommendations
Removing spyware and malware is one step towards cybersecurity. To protect yourself against ever-evolving threats, we strongly recommend purchasing a Premium version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, which provides security based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Includes ransomware protection. See pricing options and protect yourself now.
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Decrypt PALQ files
Fix and open large PALQ files easily:
It is reported that STOP/DJVU ransomware versions encrypt only the beginning 150 KB of each file to ensure that the virus manages to affect all files on the system. In some cases, the malicious program might skip some files at all. That said, we recommend testing this method on several big (>1GB) files first.
- Create a copy of encrypted file to a separate folder using Copy > Paste commands.
- Now, right-click the created copy and choose Rename. Select the PALQ extension and delete it. Press Enter to save changes.
- In the prompt asking whether you want to make the changes as file might become unusable, click OK.
- Try opening the file.
STOP/DJVU decryption tool usage guide
STOP/DJVU ransomware versions are grouped into old and new variants. PALQ Ransomware Virus is considered the new STOP/DJVU variant, just like KCVP, KCBU, TCBU, UYRO, ZATP, ZATE (find full list here). This means full data decryption is now possible only if you have been affected by offline encryption key. To decrypt your files, you will have to download Emsisoft Decryptor for STOP DJVU, a tool created and maintained by a genius security researcher Michael Gillespie.
Note! Please do not spam the security researcher with questions whether he can recover your files encrypted with online key - it is not possible.
In order to test the tool and see if it can decrypt PALQ files, follow the given tutorial.
- Download the decryption tool from Emsisoft.
- Click the little arrow next to your download and choose Show in Folder.
- Now, right-click the file and choose Run as Administrator. If asked, enter administrator's password.
- In UAC window, click Yes.
- Click Yes to agree to software terms in both windows.
- The tool will automatically include C:// disk as a location to decrypt. The file recovery tool will prepopulate the locations to scan, including connected data storage drives or network drives. Click Add folder if you wish to add additional locations.
In Options tab, you can choose to keep encrypted file copies. We recommend leaving this option selected, especially if you do not know if the decryption tool will work.
- Click Decrypt to start restoring PALQ files. You will see the progress in the Results tab. Here, you can see messages from the tool, such as whether the decryption procedure is successful, or you need to wait for an update.
You might also be informed that online key was used to encrypt your files. In such case, the decryption tool won't work for you, and the only way to recover your files is to use a data backup.
Meanings of decryptor's messages
The PALQ decryption tool might display several different messages after failed attempt to restore your files. You might receive one of the following messages:
Error: Unable to decrypt file with ID: [example ID]
This message typically means that there is no corresponding decryption key in the decryptor's database.
No key for New Variant online ID: [example ID]
Notice: this ID appears to be an online ID, decryption is impossible
This message informs that your files were encrypted with online key, meaning no one else has the same encryption/decryption key pair, therefore data recovery without paying the criminals is impossible.
Result: No key for new variant offline ID: [example ID]
This ID appears to be an offline ID. Decryption may be possible in the future.
If you were informed that an offline key was used, but files could not be restored, it means that the offline decryption key isn't available yet. However, receiving this message is extremely good news, meaning that it might be possible to restore your PALQ extension files in the future. It can take a few months until the decryption key gets found and uploaded to the decryptor. We recommend you to follow updates regarding the decryptable DJVU versions here. We strongly recommend backing up your encrypted data and waiting.
Report Internet crime to legal departments
Victims of PALQ Ransomware Virus should report the Internet crime incident to the official government fraud and scam website according to their country:
- In the United States, go to the On Guard Online website.
- In Australia, go to the SCAMwatch website.
- In Germany, go to the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik website.
- In Ireland, go to the An Garda Síochána website.
- In New Zealand, go to the Consumer Affairs Scams website.
- In the United Kingdom, go to the Action Fraud website.
- In Canada, go to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- In India, go to Indian National Cybercrime Reporting Portal.
- In France, go to the Agence nationale de la sécurité des systèmes d’information.
If you can't find an authority corresponding to your location on this list, we recommend using any search engine to look up "[your country name] report cyber crime". This should lead you to the right authority website. We also recommend staying away from third-party crime report services that are often paid. It costs nothing to report Internet crime to official authorities.
Another recommendation is to contact your country's or region’s federal police or communications authority.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can only open PALQ files if you have the decryption key, or if you were affected by offline encryption type.
To figure out whether you were affected by offline encryption, please go to C:/SystemID/PersonalID.txt and see if the string inside of it ends in t1. You can also try using Emsisoft Decryptor for STOP/DJVU.
Please follow the guidances provided by the official PALQ decryption tools and believe what they say. If they say it is impossible to decrypt, it really is so. There is no magic tool or human capable of decrypting your files hiding somewhere. Encryption is a technique created to be nearly impossible to decrypt without a special private key (held by the criminals).
We advise scanning with anti-virus, anti-malware, malware removal tools or software like RESTORO to eliminate virus damage on the system. If you do not trust using a single tool, try running one after another. However, we do not recommend keeping several security programs on a computer at once as they can interfere with each other's work.
Beware of fake PALQ decryption tools circulating around the web. Cyber criminals are uploading them to various shady websites, also might be promoting them via suspicious Youtube videos. These programs can infect your computer even more heavily (Trojans, miners, etc.). We suggest being extremely cautious around the web. If there will be an official STOP/DJVU decryption tool available, it will be widely discussed in public media.
Norbert Webb is the head of Geek’s Advice team. He is the chief editor of the website who controls the quality of content published. The man also loves reading cybersecurity news, testing new software and sharing his insights on them. Norbert says that following his passion for information technology was one of the best decisions he has ever made. “I don’t feel like working while I’m doing something I love.” However, the geek has other interests, such as snowboarding and traveling.