ZAQI ransomware is a malicious computer virus designed to encrypt your files
- ZAQI ransomware is a malicious computer virus designed to encrypt your files
- Ransomware distribution methods you should be wary of
- How this ransomware variant operates
- Remove ZAQI Ransomware Virus and Recover Your Files
- Decrypt ZAQI files
- Frequently Asked Questions
ZAQI ransomware is a file-encrypting malicious virus that belongs to the STOP/DJVU ransomware family. It is notorious for encrypting all files contained in any computer it infiltrates and at the same time appends each file name with .zaqi extensions. E.g., a file formerly saved as 1.jpg will be renamed 1.jpg.zaqi and same routine will be applied continuously. During the attack, a ransom note called _readme.txt will be dropped in all the folders. Contained in the ransom note is a message from the cybercriminals informing the victim to reach out to them in order to pay a specific amount of money in exchange for ZAQI decryption tool.
The ransom note will emphasize that the entire data contained in the compromised computer has been encrypted by ZAQI ransomware virus, and they made use of a very strong encryption key. Therefore, the only way the victim could ever regain access to the files is by paying ransom. Also included in the message are two email addresses (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) which the victim is expected to write to in order to get in touch with the criminals.
In addition to that, decryption service prices would also be provided with terms and conditions attached to it. They will notify that if the victim is able to comply within the next 72 hours i.e. 3 days, a 50% discount will be granted, which means that instead of paying a ransom fee of $980, $490 would be acceptable. However, once the 3 days grace period elapses, only the full amount is what must be paid.
Once they’re contacted via email, the cybercriminals will clarify that cash payment is prohibited; instead the victim would have to pay with digital currency such as Bitcoin. They will request that the cryptocurrency worth of the ransom fee should be transferred to their own wallet address. The main reason why they chose this medium of payment is to cover their tracks and avoid any link law enforcement agencies could use to identify them. In order to bolster their confidence and motivate to pay the ransom, the cybercriminals may suggest for random files to be sent to them for test decryption but will warn that such file shouldn’t contain valuable information.
Our cybersecurity experts advise that victims should follow FBI’s directive which is against the payment of ransom; therefore, the consensus recommendation is NO TO RANSOM PAYMENT! This standpoint is logical considering the following issues:
- There is no guarantee you will retrieve your lost data even after paying ransom;
- Paying ransom is a form of indirect endorsement of criminal activities;
- More money in the hands of cybercriminals would enhance their capacity to commit more crimes against the public.
Criminals involved in ransomware are increasingly milking millions of dollars from their victims who inadvertently had their computer systems infected by these file-encrypting malwares. Thus it is very important reduce it drastically by putting a stop to ransom payment.
In addition to that, the virus usually drops Trojans such as AZORULT and VIDAR that are notorious for their information stealing ability. They can surreptitiously steal vital personal information like Passwords, banking details, cryptocurrency wallets, and software login credentials among others. Such sensitive information in the wrong hands can lead to further problems like blackmails or theft.
If you are already a victim of this variant of STOP/DJVU virus, you shouldn’t panic but it’s very important to remove ZAQI ransomware with immediate effect. You will need a strong antivirus software and also put your computer in Safe Mode with Networking option before you can effectively remove traces of the virus safely. If you’re unsure which antivirus to use, you may want to take our recommendation and try INTEGO Antivirus, which has outstanding malware detection rate. Additionally, we recommend you to download RESTORO to repair virus damage inflicted on Windows OS files.
|Name||ZAQI Ransomware Virus|
|Type||Ransomware; Crypto-malware; Virtual Extortion Virus|
|Encryption type||RSA 2048 + Salsa20|
|Previous versions||NQHD, ZAQI, YBER, VFGJ, FHKF, MAAK, QQQW (find full list here)|
|Cybercriminal email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Additional malware dropped||Azorult or Vidar Trojan|
|Damage||The ransomware encrypts all data on target computer, marking each file with an additional .zaqi extension. The malware saves _readme.txt ransom notes in every folder to provide the victim with information about possible data decryption solution. This file-encrypting malware often drops additional threats, such as information-stealing Trojans. The ransomware deletes Volume Shadow Copies to prevent access to existing System Restore Points. Some ransomware variants tend to edit Windows HOSTS file by uploading a list of domains to restrict victim’s access to them.|
|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||Ransom:Win32/StopCrypt.PAJ!MTB (Microsoft), Trojan.GenericKD.47856736 (B) (Emsisoft), HEUR:Trojan-Ransom.Win32.Stop.gen (Kaspersky), Trojan.GenericKD.47856736 (BitDefender), Trojan.MalPack.GS (Malwarebytes), ML.Attribute.HighConfidence (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.|
REMOVE MALWARE & REPAIR VIRUS DAMAGE
1 Step. Get robust antivirus to remove existing threats and enable real-time protection
INTEGO Antivirus for Windows provides robust real-time protection, Web Shield against phishing and deceptive websites, blocks malicious downloads and blocks Zero-Day threats. Use it to remove ransomware and other viruses from your computer professionally.
2 Step. Repair Virus Damage on Windows Operating System Files
Download RESTORO to scan your system for FREE and 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.
Ransomware distribution methods you should be wary of
The most common method of distributing variants of STOP/DJVU ransomware, including ZAQI virus is through downloading of malicious torrents. The cybercriminals are known to hide them in pirated software contents, particularly fake “cracks” and key generators. When unsuspecting computer users make use of these illegal software copies, they inadvertently unleash malware on their computer.
A cross-section of those who have fallen victim to some of these ransomware variants, generally mention diverse software names the cybercriminals often make use of. They include pirated license activation tools and deceptive “cracks” among others. These malware-laden software copies are usually uploaded to online torrent libraries as bait to lure unsuspecting victims. Listed below are some of the most popular ones:
- Internet Download Manager;
- VMware Workstation;
- Tenorshare 4ukey;
- Corel Draw;
- Fifa 20;
- Adobe Illustrator;
- Opera browser;
- League of Legends;
- Adobe Photoshop;
- KMSPico (illegal Windows activation tool).
If you’re among those that visit online software torrents, then it’s high time you put a stop to such risky activity. Cybercriminals are often waiting to prey on such freeloaders. Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry. It doesn’t end there; illegally downloading files with copyright patents can be grounds for criminal prosecution. It is more decent and safe to encourage growth of the industry by paying the official prices and also obtaining them using legitimate platforms such as official websites of the producers or their affiliated partners only. Also take cognizance of the fact that whatever amount you’re asked to pay is insignificant compared to the insane amount of money cybercriminals will demand from you as ransom if/when you fall victim. Likewise, you won’t be putting your sensitive data at risk.
It has become increasingly difficult to decipher if a particular email is genuine or from cybercriminals, since they now camouflage as legitimate brands such as FedEx, Amazon or UPS and would give inciting names such as Tracking Details, Order Summary or Invoice to the attached files. Sometimes, scammers make use of email spoofing methods to conceal the real sender’s email address and display a fake one. This situation has made it necessary for people always to apply caution when opening random emails and attachments. If you suspect that something is fishy about a particular email, then you may as well avoid opening it.
Victims of STOP/DJVU ransomware tend to get desperate in their search for decryption solutions and they end up going to dubious sites. Please note that most of those sites claiming to offer decryption services are not genuine because such rarely exists. These fake STOP/DJVU decryptors they decoys cybercriminals also use to spread other ransomware variants such as ZORAB. They can cause double encryption of your files.
How this ransomware variant operates
You can go through this section to actually understand what actually occurred during ZAQI ransomware attack, especially the technical aspect. The first thing the malware does is to set up build.exe or build2.exe as well as winupdate.exe (this is what prompts the display of fake Windows update). The virus then connects to https[:]//api.2ip.ua/geo.json and fetches details such as geolocation, zip code, time zone, longitude and latitude. The response from the said domain will be saved into geo.json file. Additionally, the virus gather’s details such as victim’s computer name, operating system, hardware, installed software and active processes and saves them to information.txt file. The ransomware also takes a screenshot of victim’s desktop. These pieces of information will then be sent to the control server.
Shown below is a screenshot of two geo.json file examples.
You can see an example of information.txt file below.
Using the geolocation, the malware will compare it with a group of countries that are designated as encryption exempted. The countries are Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Syria, Kazachstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan and Kyrgystan.
If the geolocation indicates that it is situated in any of these countries, it will automatically abort any further action. However, if it shows otherwise, the ransomware will move to the next stage where it commences the extraction of online encryption key from their control server. This online key will be merged with the victim’s ID and the result stored in bowsakkdestx.txt file and to PersonalID.txt file.
The screenshot provided below is a good example of both of these files.
If on the other hand, the virus couldn’t extract an online encryption ID, it will settle for offline encryption ID as an alternative. However, unlike the online ID that is unique to each victim, the offline ID is universal for all victims thus brightening the chance of being able to decrypt .zaqi files someday. More information about this is provided in this article about repairing/decrypting files affected by STOP/DJVU versions.
At this point, the ransomware will commence the full data encryption process by scanning every folder and encrypting them with Salsa20 and locking the encryption key with the RSA-2048 key. While this is still ongoing, the virus will mark each file with a file marker extension.
A replica screenshot of _readme.txt ransom note that is left in all the folders is displayed in the image below.
At this point, the virus will delete all Volume Shadow copies by making use of the command prompt task as shown here:
vssadmin.exe Delete Shadows /All /Quiet
After that, the virus would compile certain domains and forward to the Windows HOSTS file where it would be placed on the localhost IP. This will automatically prevent victims from having access to any of those deny-listed websites. When they make attempts, the DNS_PROBE_FINISHED_NXDOMAIN error message is what will appear on their screen. The reason why they block these sites is to prevent the victim from getting help online.
Remove ZAQI Ransomware Virus and Recover Your Files
For those whose files were encrypted by this variant of STOP/DJVU, you should get remove ZAQI ransomware virus ASAP and also follow the steps outlined below.
- Inform local authorities in charge of such issues about the cybercrime;
- Make use of your data backup devices to restore lost files;
- Learn possible ways you can repair files encrypted by STOP/DJVU variants;
- Change all the passwords that were directly or remotely used in the computer;
- Never pay ransom demands regardless of how important the files are to you because there is no guarantee that the cybercriminals would decrypt your files even after fulfilling their demand.
In all, the best way to stay safe is by being proactive enough in detecting and deleting malware carrying emails and attachment without opening them and also to stay away from online torrents libraries. Always pay whatever price that is placed on software copies by their developers instead of trying to get them illegally at little or no cost. Also install strong antivirus and keep it updated at all times. Our team recommends using INTEGO Antivirus to eliminate all malware and keep your PC protected 24/7. Additionally, we suggest downloading this tool – RESTORO and using it to repair virus damage on Windows OS files.
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:
ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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, see a video tutorial on how to do it:
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.
- 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 ZAQI 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
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.
- 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 ZAQI files
Fix and open large ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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. ZAQI Ransomware Virus is considered the new STOP/DJVU variant, just like NQHD, ZAQI, YBER, VFGJ, FHKF, MAAK, QQQW (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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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 ZAQI 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.