Cactus virus Removal Guide
What is Cactus ransomware?
Cybercriminals behind Cactus ransomware perform sophisticated attacks to steal corporate data
Cactus ransomware operation first appeared in the cybersecurity scene in March 2023. An increasingly complex campaign of cyberattacks has targeted businesses, resulting in multiple breaches. The perpetrators of the Cactus ransomware employ a series of calculated actions to breach corporate networks and obtain confidential information.
First, the offenders get access to business networks. This access is frequently obtained by a number of strategies, such as buying credentials that have been stolen, joining forces with malware distributors, initiating phishing campaigns, or taking advantage of network weaknesses. Once inside, these threat actors move methodically, frequently going unnoticed, around the network while they steal vital company information from servers.
After stealing the data, the attackers gain administrative rights on the network to further increase their level of control. At this point, the ransomware portion of their operation is carried out, encrypting files and leaving ransom notes on compromised systems.
The Cactus ransomware campaign is noteworthy for its use of double-extortion techniques. In order to obtain a decryption tool and restore access to their encrypted files, victims are forced to pay a ransom. In addition, if the ransom is paid, the attackers guarantee to delete any stolen material and to keep it a secret. When victims don't cooperate, the stolen information is made available to the public via Cactus' data leak website.
Over 80 companies are listed on Cactus' data leak site as of the most recent reports. These are organizations whose data has either been made available to the public or is in danger of being released, provided the ransom is not paid. This operation is a prime example of how attacks by ransomware have become more complex and effective in modern times.
|Data encryption, money extortion, threat of releasing sensitive corporate information
|Online advertisements, stolen credentials, software vulnerabilities
|cAcTuS.readme.txt (can vary)
|.CTS1 (can vary)
|email@example.com (can vary)
|Employing powerful removal tools such as SpyHunter 5Combo Cleaner
|Upon installation, malware can cause severe damage to system files, resulting in instability issues such as crashes and errors. However, FortectIntego PC repair can automatically fix any such damage
The recent attack on Schneider Electric
Earlier this month, Schneider Electric, a leading French multinational corporation, experienced a ransomware attack targeting its Sustainability Business division. This division is known for its Resource Advisory product, a tool used for visualizing sustainability data, along with other specialized systems within the division.
The attack, confirmed by Schneider Electric, led to unauthorized access to data. The company's Global Incident Response team was promptly activated to manage and contain the situation. Efforts were focused on reinforcing the existing security measures and communicating with affected customers.
Schneider Electric's Sustainability Business division is undergoing comprehensive remediation to secure and restore its business platforms. This includes thorough testing of the operational capabilities of the systems affected by the ransomware attack. The company anticipates resuming normal access and functionality within the next couple of business days. The company said in the press release:
Schneider Electric Global Incident Response team has been immediately mobilized to respond to the attack, contain the incident, and to reinforce existing security measures. Sustainability Business division has informed impacted customers
It's important to note that the Sustainability Business division operates independently on a separate network infrastructure, ensuring that no other divisions of Schneider Electric were compromised in this incident. The company has engaged external cybersecurity experts to conduct a detailed investigation of the breach.
Schneider Electric, which reported over $37 billion in revenue in 2022, has not officially commented on whether the Cactus ransomware group was responsible for this specific attack, which occurred on January 17. The incident underscores the ongoing challenges faced by multinational corporations in safeguarding their digital infrastructure against sophisticated cyber threats.
Cactus ransomware attack examples
There are numerous versions of Cactus ransomware that could be targeting various organizations. Below we will provide an example of what one of such attacks might look like.
Cactus is a type of ransomware that targets and encrypts files, changing their extensions to “.CTS1”. For example, a file originally named “1.jpg” would be renamed to “1.jpg.CTS1”, and similarly for other file types. This ransomware is characterized by its unique extension appending method, which can vary depending on the encryption mode used. In some cases, files may end up with double extensions, such as “.CTS1.CTS6”.
Upon successful encryption of data, Cactus leaves a ransom note titled “cAcTuS.readme.txt” in the affected system. This note informs the victims about the encryption of their systems and provides instructions for contacting the attackers to negotiate file recovery and prevent data leakage. The primary mode of contact suggested in the ransom note is through email, specifically at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, the note provides a backup communication channel via Tox chat, a secure messaging platform.
The content of the ransom note typically reads as follows:
Your systems were accessed and encrypted by Cactus.
To recover your files and prevent data disclosure contact us via email: email@example.com
Your unique ID reference: –
Backup contact TOX (hxxps://tox.chat/):
Beyond encryption, Cactus ransomware exhibits behaviors typical of contemporary cybercriminal tactics, such as data exfiltration. The attackers use the Rclone tool to transfer stolen files directly to cloud storage services. Following the data theft, a PowerShell script TotalExec is employed.
This script, often associated with the BlackBasta ransomware, facilitates the automated deployment of the encryption process across the compromised systems. This combination of data theft and encryption underscores the multifaceted threat posed by Cactus ransomware in cybersecurity incidents.
How to contain and remove the infection? Possible decryption solutions
Cactus ransomware can be effectively removed using advanced anti-malware solutions such as SpyHunter 5Combo Cleaner or Malwarebytes. However, before initiating the removal process, it's crucial to isolate the infection, which requires disconnecting all infected PCs from the network. Such isolation prevents the spread of ransomware to other systems and limits the malware's communication with any external control servers.
Once the infected systems are isolated, the next step is to initiate the removal process in Safe Mode. Safe Mode in Windows is a diagnostic mode that starts the system with a minimal set of drivers and services. Running anti-malware tools in Safe Mode enhances their effectiveness, as the ransomware is less likely to be active and thus can be more easily detected and removed.
After the ransomware has been successfully removed, the focus shifts to the recovery of encrypted files. While it's often challenging to decrypt files without the original encryption key, using data restore software offers the possibility of retrieving some lost data. These software tools can scan the affected drives and attempt to recover files that were encrypted by the ransomware.
Following the removal of the ransomware and attempts at data recovery, it's essential to address any potential system corruption. Windows systems, after a ransomware attack, may suffer from various issues like corrupted files or disrupted system settings. Utilizing a Windows repair tool, such as FortectIntego, can help in fixing these corruptions, and restoring system stability and functionality.
In addition to these steps, there are also additional tips and best practices for dealing with ransomware attacks. These tips cover a range of strategies from preventive measures to limit the risk of infection to post-attack protocols that help in mitigating the damage and preventing future incidents. By following these comprehensive guidelines, users and administrators can enhance their resilience against ransomware threats and safeguard their data and systems more effectively.
Getting rid of Cactus virus. Follow these steps
Important steps to take before you begin malware removal
File encryption and ransomware infection are two independent processes (although the latter would not be possible without the former). However, it is important to understand that malware performs various changes within a Windows operating system, fundamentally changing the way it works.
IMPORTANT for those without backups! →
If you attempt to use security or recovery software immediately, you might permanently damage your files, and even a working decryptor then would not be able to save them.
Before you proceed with the removal instructions below, you should copy the encrypted files onto a separate medium, such as USB flash drive or SSD, and then disconnect them from your computer. Encrypted data does not hold any malicious code, so it is safe to transfer to other devices.
The instructions below might initially seem overwhelming and complicated, but they are not difficult to understand as long as you follow each step in the appropriate order. This comprehensive free guide will help you to handle the malware removal and data recovery process correctly.
If you have any questions, comments, or are having troubles with following the instructions, please do not hesitate to contact us via the Ask Us section.
It is vital to eliminate malware infection from the computer fully before starting the data recovery process, otherwise ransomware might re-encrypt retrieved files from backups repeatedly.
Isolate the infected computer
Some ransomware strains aim to infect not only one computer but hijack the entire network. As soon as one of the machines is infected, malware can spread via network and encrypt files everywhere else, including Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. If your computer is connected to a network, it is important to isolate it to prevent re-infection after ransomware removal is complete.
The easiest way to disconnect a PC from everything is simply to plug out the ethernet cable. However, in the corporate environment, this might be extremely difficult to do (also would take a long time). The method below will disconnect from all the networks, including local and the internet, isolating each of the machines involved.
- Type in Control Panel in Windows search and press Enter
- Go to Network and Internet
- Click Network and Sharing Center
- On the left, pick Change adapter settings
- Right-click on your connection (for example, Ethernet), and select Disable
- Confirm with Yes.
If you are using some type of cloud storage you are connected to, you should disconnect from it immediately. It is also advisable to disconnect all the external devices, such as USB flash sticks, external HDDs, etc. Once the malware elimination process is finished, you can connect your computers to the network and internet, as explained above, but by pressing Enable instead.
Scan your system with anti-malware
If you are a victim of ransomware, you should employ anti-malware software for its removal. Some ransomware can self-destruct after the file encryption process is finished. Even in such cases, malware might leave various data-stealing modules or could operate in conjunction with other malicious programs on your device.
SpyHunter 5Combo Cleaner or Malwarebytes can detect and eliminate all ransomware-related files, additional modules, along with other viruses that could be hiding on your system. The security software is really easy to use and does not require any prior IT knowledge to succeed in the malware removal process.
Repair damaged system components
Once a computer is infected with malware, its system is changed to operate differently. For example, an infection can alter the Windows registry database, damage vital bootup and other sections, delete or corrupt DLL files, etc. Once a system file is damaged by malware, antivirus software is not capable of doing anything about it, leaving it just the way it is. Consequently, users might experience performance, stability, and usability issues, to the point where a full Windows reinstall is required.
Therefore, we highly recommend using a one-of-a-kind, patented technology of FortectIntego repair. Not only can it fix virus damage after the infection, but it is also capable of removing malware that has already broken into the system thanks to several engines used by the program. Besides, the application is also capable of fixing various Windows-related issues that are not caused by malware infections, for example, Blue Screen errors, freezes, registry errors, damaged DLLs, etc.
- Download the application by clicking on the link above
- Click on the ReimageRepair.exe
- If User Account Control (UAC) shows up, select Yes
- Press Install and wait till the program finishes the installation process
- The analysis of your machine will begin immediately
- Once complete, check the results – they will be listed in the Summary
- You can now click on each of the issues and fix them manually
- If you see many problems that you find difficult to fix, we recommend you purchase the license and fix them automatically.
By employing FortectIntego, you would not have to worry about future computer issues, as most of them could be fixed quickly by performing a full system scan at any time. Most importantly, you could avoid the tedious process of Windows reinstallation in case things go very wrong due to one reason or another.
Restore Windows "hosts" file to its original state
Some ransomware might modify Windows hosts file in order to prevent users from accessing certain websites online. For example, Djvu ransomware variants add dozens of entries containing URLs of security-related websites, such as 2-spyware.com. Each of the entries means that users will not be able to access the listed web addresses and will receive an error instead.
Here's an example of “hosts” file entries that were injected by ransomware:
In order to restore your ability to access all websites without restrictions, you should either delete the file (Windows will automatically recreate it) or remove all the malware-created entries. If you have never touched the “hosts” file before, you should simply delete it by marking it and pressing Shift + Del on your keyboard. For that, navigate to the following location:
Restore files using data recovery software
Since many users do not prepare proper data backups prior to being attacked by ransomware, they might often lose access to their files permanently. Paying criminals is also very risky, as they might not fulfill the promises and never send back the required decryption tool.
While this might sound terrible, not all is lost – data recovery software might be able to help you in some situations (it highly depends on the encryption algorithm used, whether ransomware managed to complete the programmed tasks, etc.). Since there are thousands of different ransomware strains, it is immediately impossible to tell whether third-party software will work for you.
Therefore, we suggest trying regardless of which ransomware attacked your computer. Before you begin, several pointers are important while dealing with this situation:
- Since the encrypted data on your computer might permanently be damaged by security or data recovery software, you should first make backups of it – use a USB flash drive or another storage.
- Only attempt to recover your files using this method after you perform a scan with anti-malware software.
Install data recovery software
- Download Data Recovery Pro.
- Double-click the installer to launch it.
- Follow on-screen instructions to install the software.
- As soon as you press Finish, you can use the app.
- Select Everything or pick individual folders where you want the files to be recovered from.
- Press Next.
- At the bottom, enable Deep scan and pick which Disks you want to be scanned.
- Press Scan and wait till it is complete.
- You can now pick which folders/files to recover – don't forget you also have the option to search by the file name!
- Press Recover to retrieve your files.
Find a working decryptor for your files
File encryption is a process that is similar to applying a password to a particular file or folder. However, from a technical point of view, encryption is fundamentally different due to its complexity. By using encryption, threat actors use a unique set of alphanumeric characters as a password that can not easily be deciphered if the process is performed correctly.
There are several algorithms that can be used to lock data (whether for good or bad reasons); for example, AES uses the symmetric method of encryption, meaning that the key used to lock and unlock files is the same. Unfortunately, it is only accessible to the attackers who hold it on a remote server – they ask for a payment in exchange for it. This simple principle is what allows ransomware authors to prosper in this illegal business.
While many high-profile ransomware strains such as Djvu or Dharma use immaculate encryption methods, there are plenty of failures that can be observed within the code of some novice malware developers. For example, the keys could be stored locally, which would allow users to regain access to their files without paying. In some cases, ransomware does not even encrypt files due to bugs, although victims might believe the opposite due to the ransom note that shows up right after the infection and data encryption is completed.
Therefore, regardless of which crypto-malware affects your files, you should try to find the relevant decryptor if such exists. Security researchers are in a constant battle against cybercriminals. In some cases, they manage to create a working decryption tool that would allow victims to recover files for free.
Once you have identified which ransomware you are affected by, you should check the following links for a decryptor:
- No More Ransom Project
- Free Ransomware Decryptors by Kaspersky
- Free Ransomware Decryption Tools from Emsisoft
- Avast decryptors
If you can't find a decryptor that works for you, you should try the alternative methods we list below. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that it sometimes takes years for a working decryption tool to be developed, so there are always hopes for the future.
Create data backups to avoid file loss in the future
One of the many countermeasures for home users against ransomware is data backups. Even if your Windows get corrupted, you can reinstall everything from scratch and retrieve files from backups with minimal losses overall. Most importantly, you would not have to pay cybercriminals and risk your money as well.
Therefore, if you have already dealt with a ransomware attack, we strongly advise you to prepare backups for future use. There are two options available to you:
- Backup on a physical external drive, such as a USB flash drive or external HDD.
- Use cloud storage services.
The first method is not that convenient, however, as backups need to constantly be updated manually – although it is very reliable. Therefore, we highly advise choosing cloud storage instead – it is easy to set up and efficient to sustain. The problem with it is that storage space is limited unless you want to pay for the subscription.
Using Microsoft OneDrive
OneDrive is a built-in tool that comes with every modern Windows version. By default, you get 5 GB of storage that you can use for free. You can increase that storage space, but for a price. Here's how to setup backups for OneDrive:
- Click on the OneDrive icon within your system tray.
- Select Help & Settings > Settings.
- If you don't see your email under the Account tab, you should click Add an account and proceed with the on-screen instructions to set yourself up.
- Once done, move to the Backup tab and click Manage backup.
- Select Desktop, Documents, and Pictures, or a combination of whichever folders you want to backup.
- Press Start backup.
After this, all the files that are imported into the above-mentioned folders will be automatically backed for you. If you want to add other folders or files, you have to do that manually. For that, open File Explorer by pressing Win + E on your keyboard, and then click on the OneDrive icon. You should drag and drop folders you want to backup (or you can use Copy/Paste as well).
Using Google Drive
Google Drive is another great solution for free backups. The good news is that you get as much as 15GB for free by choosing this storage. There are also paid versions available, with significantly more storage to choose from.
You can access Google Drive via the web browser or use a desktop app you can download on the official website. If you want your files to be synced automatically, you will have to download the app, however.
- Download the Google Drive app installer and click on it.
- Wait a few seconds for it to be installed.
- Now click the arrow within your system tray – you should see Google Drive icon there, click it once.
- Click Get Started.
- Enter all the required information – your email/phone, and password.
- Now pick what you want to sync and backup. You can click on Choose Folder to add additional folders to the list.
- Once done, pick Next.
- Now you can select to sync items to be visible on your computer.
- Finally, press Start and wait till the sync is complete. Your files are now being backed up.
Report the incident to your local authorities
Ransomware is a huge business that is highly illegal, and authorities are very involved in catching malware operators. To have increased chances of identifying the culprits, the agencies need information. Therefore, by reporting the crime, you could help with stopping the cybercriminal activities and catching the threat actors. Make sure you include all the possible details, including how did you notice the attack, when it happened, etc. Additionally, providing documents such as ransom notes, examples of encrypted files, or malware executables would also be beneficial.
Law enforcement agencies typically deal with online fraud and cybercrime, although it depends on where you live. Here is the list of local authority groups that handle incidents like ransomware attacks, sorted by country:
- USA – Internet Crime Complaint Center IC3
- United Kingdom – ActionFraud
- Canada – Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
- Australia – ScamWatch
- New Zealand – ConsumerProtection
- Germany – Polizei
- France – Ministère de l'Intérieur
If your country is not listed above, you should contact the local police department or communications center.
Manual removal using Safe Mode
Manual removal guide might be too complicated for regular computer users. It requires advanced IT knowledge to be performed correctly (if vital system files are removed or damaged, it might result in full Windows compromise), and it also might take hours to complete. Therefore, we highly advise using the automatic method provided above instead.
Step 1. Access Safe Mode with Networking
Manual malware removal should be best performed in the Safe Mode environment.
Windows 7 / Vista / XP
- Click Start > Shutdown > Restart > OK.
- When your computer becomes active, start pressing F8 button (if that does not work, try F2, F12, Del, etc. – it all depends on your motherboard model) multiple times until you see the Advanced Boot Options window.
- Select Safe Mode with Networking from the list.
Windows 10 / Windows 8
- Right-click on Start button and select Settings.
- Scroll down to pick Update & Security.
- On the left side of the window, pick Recovery.
- Now scroll down to find Advanced Startup section.
- Click Restart now.
- Select Troubleshoot.
- Go to Advanced options.
- Select Startup Settings.
- Press Restart.
- Now press 5 or click 5) Enable Safe Mode with Networking.
Step 2. Shut down suspicious processes
Windows Task Manager is a useful tool that shows all the processes running in the background. If malware is running a process, you need to shut it down:
- Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard to open Windows Task Manager.
- Click on More details.
- Scroll down to Background processes section, and look for anything suspicious.
- Right-click and select Open file location.
- Go back to the process, right-click and pick End Task.
- Delete the contents of the malicious folder.
Step 3. Check program Startup
- Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard to open Windows Task Manager.
- Go to Startup tab.
- Right-click on the suspicious program and pick Disable.
Step 4. Delete virus files
Malware-related files can be found in various places within your computer. Here are instructions that could help you find them:
- Type in Disk Cleanup in Windows search and press Enter.
- Select the drive you want to clean (C: is your main drive by default and is likely to be the one that has malicious files in).
- Scroll through the Files to delete list and select the following:
Temporary Internet Files
- Pick Clean up system files.
- You can also look for other malicious files hidden in the following folders (type these entries in Windows Search and press Enter):
After you are finished, reboot the PC in normal mode.
Finally, you should always think about the protection of crypto-ransomwares. In order to protect your computer from Cactus and other ransomwares, use a reputable anti-spyware, such as FortectIntego, SpyHunter 5Combo Cleaner or Malwarebytes
How to prevent from getting ransomware
Choose a proper web browser and improve your safety with a VPN tool
Online spying has got momentum in recent years and people are getting more and more interested in how to protect their privacy online. One of the basic means to add a layer of security – choose the most private and secure web browser. Although web browsers can't grant full privacy protection and security, some of them are much better at sandboxing, HTTPS upgrading, active content blocking, tracking blocking, phishing protection, and similar privacy-oriented features. However, if you want true anonymity, we suggest you employ a powerful Private Internet Access VPN – it can encrypt all the traffic that comes and goes out of your computer, preventing tracking completely.
Lost your files? Use data recovery software
While some files located on any computer are replaceable or useless, others can be extremely valuable. Family photos, work documents, school projects – these are types of files that we don't want to lose. Unfortunately, there are many ways how unexpected data loss can occur: power cuts, Blue Screen of Death errors, hardware failures, crypto-malware attack, or even accidental deletion.
To ensure that all the files remain intact, you should prepare regular data backups. You can choose cloud-based or physical copies you could restore from later in case of a disaster. If your backups were lost as well or you never bothered to prepare any, Data Recovery Pro can be your only hope to retrieve your invaluable files.