PQGS ransomware aims to lock your personal files using encryption
- PQGS ransomware aims to lock your personal files using encryption
- Ransomware distribution tricks you must be aware of
- Technical insights regarding PQGS ransomware operation
- Remove PQGS Ransomware Virus and Decrypt Your Files
- Decrypt PQGS files
- Frequently Asked Questions
PQGS ransomware is the newest addition to the STOP/DJVU ransomware virus family. Once executed on the target system, this virus encrypts all files stored on it by leveraging Salsa20 and RSA-2048 encryption algorithms. During the system scan, the virus appends affected files with .pqgs extension, which is also used to identify this malware. For example, an image originally called 1.jpg becomes 1.jpg.pqgs and so on. To inform the victim about data recovery options, the virus also drops _readme.txt ransom notes in every folder. This note specifies that the only way to access PQGS decryption tool is to pay a ransom ($490-$980) after contacting the virus’ developers via provided emails: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
The ransom note dropped by PQGS ransomware suggests that all of victim’s personal or work files stored on the system were encrypted with the strongest encryption and in order to recover them, the victim has to pay a ransom. The note notifies that the price of data decryption tool depends on whether the victim manages to contact the offenders within 3 full days or later. If one does, the price of the decryption will be set to $490 (with 50% discount). Otherwise, the price will remain $980. For more information about the decryption and payment methods, the victim is instructed to write to provided emails.
The note also suggests that the ransomware operators are willing to provide test PQGS file decryption service on one file. To get a proof that the attackers can restore files, the victim can send one small file that doesn’t contain any valuable information as an attachment to the email for the criminals. They promise to reply with a decrypted version of the file. Additionally, they will instruct the victim to purchase cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin worth the amount demanded as a ransom, and how to transfer it to the attacker’s wallet address.
No matter the circumstances or the frustration in the situation now that you’ve become a victim of a ransomware attack, we do not recommend paying the ransom. As advised by FBI and our team, here are some arguments to support this recommendation:
- No one guarantees you the complete file recovery, even if you decide to pay up. Cybercriminal’s promises cannot be trusted.
- Paying a ransom is basically supporting the ransomware business and it helps to fuel their operations.
- Insane amounts of money collected by ransomware criminals each year is a major factor that influences other people to join these operations.
- Beware that STOP/DJVU versions like PQGS virus can compromise your computer with additional threats such as AZORULT. It is designed to steal important personal information like banking details, login credentials (usernames and passwords), cryptocurrency wallets, software account login credentials, Skype chat history, etc. So despite paying a ransom to criminals, you may be blackmailed for a very long time.
Victims affected by this ransomware are advised to eliminate all viruses and malware from their computers immediately. The easiest way to remove PQGS ransomware virus and related threats is to run a reputable and robust antivirus solution on the system while in Safe Mode with Networking. Make sure you have an antivirus first (we recommend using INTEGO Antivirus, then follow instructions given below this article. Additionally, we advise downloading and scanning with RESTORO to try to repair virus damage on Windows OS files.
|Name||PQGS 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 uses robust encryption algorithms to lock all files on the computer and make them inaccessible to the original owner. During the attack, the malware also appends each encrypted file with .pqgs 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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Ransomware distribution tricks you must be aware of
Ransomware-type threats like PQGS virus often await for victims in illegal online downloads, deceptive email attachments, compromised online ads or, in more complicated cases, exploits. When it comes to STOP/DJVU variants, the majority of victims expose themselves to a ransomware attack after opening a malicious crack supposed to activate premium versions of these popular programs:
- 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).
It is important to point out that attempts to install pirated software versions are nothing else but an act of copyright infringement that can get you in trouble with law enforcement agencies. Besides that, you expose your computer to various computer threats that often travel along such downloads. Some examples of malware that hides in such torrents are Trojans, ransomware, cryptocurrency miners, keyloggers, adware and other unwanted programs. What is worse is that computer users who try to activate such software versions without paying the license fee often ignore their security software warnings about the danger behind such downloads and proceed to open it.
Our experts advise you to only get legitimate software copies from official software developer’s websites solely. Another option is to look for deals on affiliate websites or partner websites. Believe us when we say that legitimate software licenses rarely cost more than decryption service fees demanded by ransomware operators.
Another well-known way of distributing unwanted software including ransomware, viruses and Trojans is leveraging a code supposed to download the threat from a remote source. The offenders inject such script into a legitimate looking document, either Word file, PDF or XLS spreadsheet and attach it to an email that also involves a deceptive message. Often times, the criminals pretend to be sending an invoice, order tracking details, waybills, missing payment notices and other document names used in regular daily communications. Unfortunately, upon launching such file, the victim’s computer will be contaminated irreversibly.
We strongly recommend you to look into ways to identify spoofed email addresses and try to stay away from email messages that spark your curiosity, although your common sense says that you were not supposed to get such email at all. If you weren’t waiting for it or it comes by a complete surprise, combined with other red flags such as unfamiliar greeting line and grammar errors, delete such message and do not even think about clicking on links included or files attached. Doing so can lead you to a complete data corruption immediately.
Another technique often used to spread malware is called malvertising. Although it is not as popular as the techniques mentioned before, cybercriminals still use it regularly. In order to use this technique, the offenders need to compromise a legitimate ad network and inject a malicious advertisement into it; as a result, pages supposed to serve advertisements from that ad network will display the malicious ad for regular visitors without knowing. If the victim clicks on such compromised ad that’s not supposed to be there, the victim’s computer may be compromised instantly or after clicking on a downloaded file.
Last but not least, STOP/DJVU victims should understand that desperate attempts to find PQGS ransomware decryption tool can lead to even more damage. To put this simply, chances to decrypt files locked by this ransomware are very limited and are explained in detail here. All other online resources claiming otherwise or promising miracle tools simply try to get you scammed or infected with additional malware. For example, ZORAB ransomware operators used to disguise their malware as fake STOP/DJVU decryption tools presented in various deceptive websites online.
Technical insights regarding PQGS ransomware operation
Naturally, some victims might be interested in how this ransomware operates and what actually was done to your computer during PQGS virus attack. To begin with, the ransomware comes as a set of processes launched one after another and named as build.exe, build2.exe or build3.exe. During the attack, the virus takes a screenshot of victim’s desktop and also collects a set of details including computer’s name, hardware details, operating system used, software installed and the list of active processes. Such information will be saved into information.txt file and sent to the criminals’ Command & Control server. You can see a screenshot of information.txt file below.
This ransomware is also programmed to bypass encryption phase on computers which are located in specific countries. To figure out the infected host’s geolocation, the virus sends a GET request to https[:]//api.2ip.ua/geo.json and saves the response into geo.json file. This file stores victim’s country, city, zip code, and other details as shown in the image below. The reason why the ransomware needs to find out victim’s geolocation is because it suspends its operations in case it detects that the victim is a resident of one of the following countries: Russian Federation, Syria, Armenia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Kazachstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan or Belarus. Although reasons why these countries are exempted from encryption are unknown, it is believed it might have something to do with the ransomware operators origins.
If PQGS ransomware finds no reason to terminate, it then connects to its Command&Control server to obtain unique online encryption key and personal ID. If this process fails, the virus decides to use hardcoded offline encryption key instead. In this case, the victim’s personal ID assigned will most likely end in t1. You can check the ending of your Personal ID in C:\SystemID\PersonalID.txt file. The good thing about offline encryption is that you can hope to recover your files in the future as explained here.
The virus tends to save the encryption key and victim’s personal ID to two locations: bowsakkdestx.txt file and PersonalID.txt file, both shown in the image below.
Once the virus prepares the encryption key, it then starts the main – data corruption phase, which begins with a launch of a fake Windows update prompt for the victim. This is believed to be a way to justify the sudden system slowdown for the victim, while the ransomware starts scanning and encrypting all files on the system using Salsa20+RSA-2048 algorithms. As mentioned earlier, the ransomware also appends .pqgs extensions to encrypted files as shown in the screenshot below.
The virus also drops _readme.txt note in every file folder to inform the computer user about the cyber attack and provide guidance on what to do next.
Just like any other ransomware of this kind, the threat removes Volume Shadow Copies from the system to prevent the victim from accessing System Restore Points, if any were created prior to the attack. To do this, the virus runs the following command in Command Prompt:
vssadmin.exe Delete Shadows /All /Quiet
Some versions of STOP/DJVU also have the tendency to block specific domains on the compromised host so that the victim could not reach those websites. For this matter, the malware uploads a list of domain names to Windows HOSTS file only to map them to victim’s localhost IP, which arises DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN error whenever one of these domains are launched in victim’s browser. The sole reason behind this move is to block out the computer user from cybersecurity related information and help online.
Last but not least, this ransomware creates even more damage for the computer user by installing additional threats. Currently there are two Trojan names that are being distributed by various STOP/DJVU versions – AZORULT and VIDAR. These threats are capable of stealing various sensitive information that could be valuable for cybercriminals, for example, your banking details, login credentials, browsing history and browser saved passwords, etc.
Remove PQGS Ransomware Virus and Decrypt Your Files
Victims of the described ransomware should take action to secure their computers immediately. The best way to remove such virus is to get a reputable antivirus and run it in Safe Mode with Networking. You can find a complete guide on how to do it and remove PQGS ransomware virus safely down below. If you are unsure which antivirus to use, you can read reviews on our site or just trust our recommendation and use INTEGO Antivirus, an excellent security software that provides real-time protection and has top malware detection rates compared to competition. Additionally, we recommend downloading this tool – RESTORO, which can repair virus damage inflicted on Windows OS files.
If you have completed PQGS ransomware virus removal already, we strongly advise you to report this cybercrime incident to your local law enforcement agency and change all of your passwords associated with your computer (those stored in web browsers, auto-saved software account passwords, etc.). Speaking of data decryption solutions, please refer to the corresponding section below. Remember that without a data backup, chances to recover your files are very limited.
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:
PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS files
Fix and open large PQGS 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 PQGS 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. PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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 PQGS 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.