The spread of Coronavirus-themed malware

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While the world attempts to take control over the spread of the Coronavirus, and tries to contain, eliminate and prevent it from spreading, hackers around the globe have found the Coronavirus serving them well as an enabler for their activities.

Check Point’s latest Global Threat Index for January 2020 shows cyber-criminals are exploiting interest in the global epidemic to spread malicious activity, with several spam campaigns relating to the outbreak of the virus.

Viruses can be transmitted in various forms, through saliva, touch or even through air, and malware is similar in the sense that it finds different vectors to penetrate.

Right after the huge global attention around the Coronavirus, cyber criminals started using the interest to spread their malicious activity. The graph below shows the trend line of the overall search for Coronavirus by Google Trends, compared to the trends we observed in social media discussions on cybersecurity and cyber-crime mentioned in relation to the virus.

In January and February 2020 the most prominent Coronavirus-themed campaign targeted Japan, distributing Emotet in malicious email attachments pretending to be sent by a Japanese disability welfare service provider. The emails appeared to be reporting where the infection is spreading in several Japanese cities, encouraging the victim to open the document for more information. When the document was opened, Emotet was downloaded onto the victim’s computer.

Emotet is an advanced, self-propagating and modular Trojan. It was originally a banking Trojan, but recently has been used as a distributor of other malware or malicious campaigns. It uses multiple methods to maintain persistence and evasion techniques to avoid detection. It can also spread through phishing spam emails containing malicious attachments or links.

In addition to email campaigns, since the Coronavirus outbreak, there has been a noticeable number of new websites registered with domain names related to the virus.

Many of these domains will probably be used for phishing attempts. As for now, Check Point already spotted and protects online users from many websites known to be related to malicious activities that lure the victims to their websites with discussions around the virus, as well as from scam websites that claim to sell face masks, vaccines, and home tests that can detect the virus.

An example of such a website is vaccinecovid-19\.com. It was first created on February 11, 2020 and registered in Russia. The website is insecure, and offers to sell “the best and fastest test for Coronavirus detection at the fantastic price of 19,000 Russian rubles (about US$300)”.

The website also offers pieces of news and a heat map of the Coronavirus spread, but on closer look one can see that it is immaturely designed, providing instructions and comments such as “ a place for a beautiful subtitle” (in English translation).

Staying protected
So how can you avoid falling victim to these scam attempts? Our recommendations for safe online behavior are:
1. Ensure you are ordering goods from an authentic source. One way to do this is NOT to click on promotional links in emails, and instead Google your desired retailer and click the link from the Google results page.
2. Beware of “special” offers. An 80% discount on a new iPhone or “an exclusive cure for Coronavirus for $150” is usually not a reliable or trustworthy purchase opportunity.
3. Beware of lookalike domains, spelling errors in emails or websites, and unfamiliar email senders.
4. Protect your organization with an holistic, end to end cyber architecture, to prevent zero-day attacks


If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at editors@expresscomputeronline.com

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