PIIQ ransomware arrives as the 307th version of STOP/DJVU malware
- PIIQ ransomware arrives as the 307th version of STOP/DJVU malware
- Ransomware attack in detail: damage explained
- Ransomware distribution tricks you should beware of
- Remove PIIQ Ransomware Virus and Rescue Your Files
- Decrypt PIIQ files
- Frequently Asked Questions
PIIQ ransomware virus is a malicious file-encrypting computer threat that is recognized as part of STOP/DJVU ransomware family. Once executed on the target system or network, this virus encrypts all victim’s files using RSA Salsa20 algorithm and appends .piiq extension to each filename. Following that, the ransomware also drops _readme.txt ransom note in every folder. It contains a message from cybercriminals who suggest that the only way to decrypt .piiq files is to pay a ransom of $490 or $980 in cryptocurrency. The lower price point applies if the victim writes to the criminals within 3 days via two given email addresses: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If the victim delays, the decryption price rises to the higher price point.
PIIQ ransomware can be defined as a virtual extortion tool developed by malevolent programmers. It is part of one of the largest encryption-based computer virus families today, known as STOP/DJVU. The primary aim of this ransomware is to use military-grade encryption algorithms to temporarily lock files on victim’s computer until a ransom is paid. It is obvious that people keep their important files on either personal or work computers, and the idea of losing all of them in a few minutes is scary. Cybercriminals expect that victims will be willing to do anything it takes to recover these files. Therefore, they demand purchasing cryptocurrency worth $490 or $980 and transfer the said sum to criminals’ virtual wallet. As stated before, the criminals demand lower ransom if the victim manages to sort out the payment problem within 3 days. Otherwise, the price increases to $980.
To encourage the victim to not hesitate and pay the ransom sooner, the criminals suggest testing the decryption first. They ask to send one small encrypted file to them and promise to reply with a decrypted version of it. However, they warn that the test file should be small in size. In addition, they might refuse to decrypt this file in case it contains valuable information, as this could refrain the victim from paying the ransom at all.
Geek’s Advice team members do not recommend paying the ransom. In addition, FBI won’t advise doing so as well. Some of the reasons why you should pay up are:
- Promises of Internet criminals do not mean a thing. They cannot be traced down, therefore they are not obliged to keep their promises. You might end up losing your files and your money because paying the ransom doesn’t automatically guarantee file recovery.
- In some countries and states, paying the ransom might be illegal.
- Ransomware-type threats rake up hefty amounts of money each year. The large sums of money that criminals collect attract other people to join the illegal business model as distributors or malware developers. For this reason, we suggest you refrain from listening to virtual extortionists’ demands!
- Viruses from STOP/DJVU ransomware family such as PIIQ virus drop AZORULT Trojan on compromised computers or networks. This Trojan can be used to steal sensitive information from victim’s computer, such as browser-saved passwords, login credentials of Skype, Steam or Telegram and even more. Such information easily allows criminals to blackmail you later via phishing emails or other contact forms.
Ransomware attack in detail: damage explained
PIIQ ransomware begins the computer infection by launching a fake Windows update prompt (winupdate.exe process). The meaning behind this masquerade is that virus’ developers want to make the computer user believe that a sudden PC slowdown is caused by a Windows operating system update. However, the computer slows down because the ransomware is in action as it scans the whole computer system, looking for target files to encrypt. To complete the data encryption faster before the victim notices anything, the ransomware encrypts only the first 150KB of each file, which is enough to guarantee file corruption. However, we must mention that such type of encryption also allows the victim to easily restore or repair certain file types with minimal data loss, for example, you can learn how to restore audio or video files with some seconds of content missing at the beginning of the file.
Speaking of other ransomware activities, it also creates and drops _readme.txt ransom notes in every affected data folder. The ransomware operators clearly want the victim to notice this file and open it.
The malware doesn’t stop there and also delete Volume Shadow Copies from computer. These are essential when trying to use System Restore Points. In other words, the malware makes any free file recovery means as complicated as possible. Next, this virtual menace adds a list of computer-related websites to Windows HOSTS file, hoping to prevent the victim from visiting them. In fact, if the victim attempts to access one of these domains directly or, say, via online search engine, DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN will come up. It is believed that ransomware operators try to prevent the victim from visiting certain domains to keep relevant cyber attack-related information inaccessible.
The said ransomware is also known to distribute AZORULT malware to compromised systems. To put it simply, it is a information-stealing Trojan that can be controlled remotely by an attacker. Some of its functionalities include:
- Download malware to victim’s computer and run it;
- Steal Steam, Telegram login credentials;
- View or delete files on victim’s computer;
- Steal cryptocurrency wallets;
- Steal browser cookies, saved passwords, browsing history and more.
That said, we strongly recommend you to remove PIIQ ransomware virus along with AZORULT and other possibly installed malware using professional antivirus tools. The one that we recommend excellent malware detection rate, real-time protection and fair price – it is INTEGO Antivirus. Use it to remove malware on your computer, but make sure you boot your PC in Safe Mode with Networking first as explained in the guide below. Finally, we strongly recommend using RESTORO to repair ransomware damage on Windows OS files.
Scan your system for FREE to detect security, hardware and stability issues. You can use the scan results and try to remove threats manually, or you can choose to get the full version of software to fix detected issues and repair virus damage to Windows OS system files automatically. Includes Avira spyware/malware detection & removal engine.
|Name||PIIQ Ransomware Virus|
|Type||Ransomware; Crypto-malware; Virtual Extortion Virus|
|Encryption type||RSA Salsa20|
|Previous versions||BBYY, BBII, BBZZ, BBII, HKGT, EFVC, EIJY (find full list here)|
|Dropper||SmokeLoader (see VirusTotal details)|
|Damage||The ransomware uses RSA Salsa20 algorithms to lock all personal files on victim’s computer, network and connected drives. Encrypted files can no longer be opened and will have a new extension that corresponds to virus’ name. The malware also eliminates Volume Shadow Copies from computer and adds a list of restricted website names to Windows HOSTS file. The ransomware leaves notes (_readme.txt) from virus’ authors in every compromised directory on a computer.|
|Ransom demand||$490-$980 in Bitcoin|
|Distribution||Hides in illegal torrent downloads, cracked software, key generators or tools like KMSPico.|
|Detection names||Trojan:Win32/Glupteba (Microsoft), Glupteba.Backdoor.Bruteforce.DDS (Malwarebytes), TR/AD.InstaBot.bfsbw (Avira), HEUR:Exploit.Win32.Shellcode.gen (Kaspersky), Trojan.GenericKD.36669904 (B)(Emsisoft), Trojan.GenericKDZ.76128 (BitDefender), W32.Trojan.Gen (Webroot) see all detection name variations on VirusTotal|
|Removal||Remove ransomware and related malware from your PC using professional antivirus software like INTEGO Antivirus. To repair virus damage on Windows OS files, consider scanning with RESTORO.|
Ransomware distribution tricks you should beware of
Computer viruses that fall in ransomware category are typically distributed using the following strategies:
Malicious torrent downloads
Malicious torrent downloads is a popular ransomware distribution technique and it is the primary method used to spread STOP/DJVU ransomware variants such as PIIQ virus. The criminals target computer users who are looking to get paid software or game versions for free and are willing to use so-called cracks or key generator tools to activate licenses without paying anything. Unfortunately, such tools are often complimented with malicious payloads. Even if the victim doesn’t notice anything after installing the desired software or game, the damage can be done already. For example, computer users can get infected with malware that has a timer to execute at a specific time or act silently (for instance, cryptocurrency miners, Remote Access Trojans and similar). What makes this ransomware (and malware in general) distribution technique so successful is that computer users even tend to ignore their antivirus’ warnings about a potentially malicious file because some tend to believe that these are false alarms related to the name “crack.” However, that is untrue in the majority of cases.
If you wish to download safe software or game versions, make sure you visit the official developer’s or distributor’s website. It is the easiest way to avoid unwanted computer infections, besides, legitimate software licenses cost way less than hefty ransoms that cybercriminals demand.
Email spam campaigns
Email spam campaigns is yet another old yet still popular ransomware distribution technique. The criminals send out thousands of deceptive emails to potential victims whose email addresses they access via various leaked database lists. Often times, the attackers make themed attacks, pretending to be someone from Amazon, eBay, DPD, DHL or other well-known companies. The message contents usually urge to open attached document or another file format that the criminals introduce as a receipt, invoice or some other document with information about missing/pending payment information. If the victim opens the attachment, the malicious script in it can connect to external resource and download ransomware plus execute it on victim’s computer.
Fake ransomware decryption tools
Ransomware victims should beware of another sneaky malware distribution technique based on fake decryption tools. Criminals that come from other ransomware gangs tend to inject their creations in fake decryption tools that victims of STOP/DJVU malware tend to download carelessly. One of such ransomware families known for usage of such deceptive distribution tactics is Zorab. Therefore, keep in mind that attempts to download suspicious “decryption” software might result in double file encryption.
Remove PIIQ Ransomware Virus and Rescue Your Files
We must recommend you to remove PIIQ ransomware virus professionally. This is the safest way to get rid of malware on your PC and protect it from future attacks and infections. We recommend using INTEGO Antivirus which provides robust real-time protection from spyware/malware and online threats such as phishing websites. Additionally, we suggest scanning with RESTORO to repair ransomware damage on Windows OS files.
Once PIIQ virus removal is done, you should take the following steps:
- Find local authority responsible for handling cybercrime incidents in your country and inform them about the ransomware attack you have just fallen victim to. We have provided some references below this guide.
- Find data backups if you have them. TIP: You must remove all malware from your PC so that your backup wouldn’t get encrypted by remaining malware.
- Use these instructions to decrypt or repair files affected by STOP/DJVU versions.
- We suggest changing all of your passwords (especially for accounts saved in browser) due to the Azorult Trojan’s activity.
OUR GEEKS RECOMMEND
Our team recommends removing malware using a professional antivirus software and then using the following tool to repair virus damage to Windows system files:
REPAIR VIRUS DAMAGE TO YOUR COMPUTER
RESTORO provides a free scan that helps to identify hardware, security and stability issues and presents a comprehensive report which can help you to locate and fix detected issues manually. It is a great PC repair software to use after you remove malware with professional antivirus. The full version of software will fix detected issues and repair virus damage caused to your Windows OS files automatically.
RESTORO uses AVIRA scanning engine to detect existing spyware and malware. If any are found, the software will eliminate them.
Read full review here.
PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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, which also includes data recovery software. For virus damage repair, consider using RESTORO.
Compatibility: Microsoft Windows
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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.
- 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 PIIQ files
Fix and open large PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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. PIIQ ransomware virus is considered the new STOP/DJVU variant, just like BBYY, BBII, BBZZ, BBII, HKGT, EFVC, EIJY (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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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 PIIQ 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.