MEOW virus Removal Guide
What is MEOW ransomware?
MEOW ransomware encrypts users' personal files and asks to pay a ransom for decryption
Ransomware can cause complete data loss if victims do not have backups
MEOW ransomware, based on CONTI ransomware, is a type of malicious software that encrypts victims' files, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks can have devastating consequences for individuals and organizations, as they can result in the loss of important data and disruption of critical services.
Once the ransomware is installed and activated, it will encrypt the victim's files, making them inaccessible. MEOW ransomware appends the affected files with the .MEOW extension. The icons are also changed to white pages so thumbnails become unavailable.
|TYPE||Ransomware, data locking virus, crypto virus|
|DISTRIBUTION||Infected email attachments, peer-to-peer file-sharing platforms, torrents, software vulnerabilities|
|FILE RECOVERY||It is almost impossible to recover the files if you do not have backups or the decryption keys were not leaked; in some cases, recovery is successful with third-party software|
|ELIMINATION||Scan your machine with anti-malware software to eliminate the virus safely; this will not recover the locked files|
|SYSTEM FIX||You can avoid Windows reinstallation with ReimageIntego maintenance tool, which can fix damaged files and system errors|
The ransom note
Ransomware developers typically include a ransom note with their malware to inform the victim of what has happened and how they can regain access to their files. These notes are often written in a way that is designed to be intimidating and threatening, in order to pressure the victim into paying the ransom.
Ransom notes are typically delivered in one of two ways: either as a text file that is placed on the victim's desktop or as a message that is displayed on the victim's screen when the malware is activated. In either case, the ransom note will contain instructions on how to pay the ransom and regain access to the victim's files. MEOW ransomware generates a ransom note readme.txt which reads as follows:
MEOW! MEOW! MEOW!
Your files has been encrypted!
Need decrypt? Write to e-mail:
Uniq ID: –
The readme.txt ransom note is short compared to other typical ransom notes. It only has the cybercriminals' contact details. There is also no ransom amount which means it is most likely negotiated privately. Most of the time, threat actors want the ransom to be paid in cryptocurrencies.
However, we strongly advise against paying the ransom because the threat actors cannot be trusted. Many previous ransomware attack victims say that they never received the promised decryption keys after paying. Although it is almost impossible to get back data without the cybercriminals' help, you should try a third-party recovery solution first.
Paying the ransom is very risky as most victims do not receive the decryption keys
There are a few common methods that attackers use to distribute ransomware. One method is through spam emails that contain a malicious link or attachment. When the victim clicks on the link or downloads the attachment, their device becomes infected with the ransomware.
Another common method is through drive-by downloads, where the victim visits a compromised website and their device automatically downloads the ransomware without their knowledge. Attackers may also use social engineering tactics, such as posing as a trustworthy authority figure, to trick victims into installing the ransomware on their own devices.
Malicious advertisements, known as “malvertisements,” are another common method of distributing ransomware. These ads may appear on legitimate websites, and when a victim clicks on them, they are redirected to a website that contains the ransomware.
In some cases, attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in a device or software to silently install the ransomware without the victim's knowledge or interaction. That is why it is extremely important to keep your operating system and software updated. Software developers release security patches regularly.
Overall, there are many different ways that attackers can distribute ransomware, and they are constantly evolving their methods to avoid detection and increase their chances of success. It is important for individuals and organizations to stay vigilant and protect themselves against these threats.
Use professional security tools to eliminate ransomware
The critical thing to do is disconnect the affected machine from the local network. For home users, disconnecting the ethernet cable should do the job. If this happened at your workplace, doing that might be complicated, so we have instructions for corporate environments at the bottom of this post.
If you try to recover your data first, it can result in permanent loss. It can also encrypt your files the second time. It will not stop until you remove the malicious files causing it first. You should not attempt removing the malicious program yourself unless you have experience.
Use anti-malware tools like SpyHunter 5Combo Cleaner or Malwarebytes to scan your system. This security software should find all the related files and entries and remove them automatically for you. In some cases, malware is not letting you use antivirus in normal mode, so you need to access Safe Mode and perform a full system scan from there:
Windows 7 / Vista / XP
- Click Start > Shutdown > Restart > OK.
- When your computer becomes active, start pressing the 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 the 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 the Advanced Startup section.
- Click Restart now.
- Select Troubleshoot.
- Go to Advanced options.
- Select Startup Settings.
- Click Restart.
- Press 5 or click 5) Enable Safe Mode with Networking.
Fix system errors
Performance, stability, and usability issues, to the point where a complete Windows reinstall is required, are expected after a malware infection. These types of infections 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 able to repair it.
This is why ReimageIntego was developed. It can fix a lot of the damage caused by an infection like this. Blue Screen errors, freezes, registry errors, damaged DLLs, etc., can make your computer completely unusable. By using this maintenance tool, you could avoid Windows reinstallation.
- 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.
File recovery software
Many people think that they can fix their files with anti-malware tools, but that is not what they are designed for. All the security tools can do is detect suspicious processes in your system and eliminate malicious files. The truth is, that the files can be restored only with a decryption key or software that only the cybercriminals have.
If you did not back up your data previously, you possibly lost your files forever. You can try using data recovery software, but third-party programs cannot always decrypt the files. We suggest at least trying this method. Before proceeding, you have to copy the corrupted files and place them in a USB flash drive or another storage. And remember – only do this if you have already removed the MEOW ransomware.
Before you begin, several pointers are essential 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.
Getting rid of MEOW virus. Follow these steps
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.
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.
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.