The news is filled with topics on COVID-19 and everything that goes along with it. A recent Cyber Security article opened with the following headlines: “Ransomware slows COVID-19 treatment development, Malware targets online shoppers, and Phishing scams jump by 667% in a month.”
Today the Department of Homeland Security Cyber Awareness Group has released the following alert. I have also attached a link to the full statement below.
Original release date: April 8, 2020
AA20–099A: COVID-19 Exploited by Malicious Cyber Actors – https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/alerts/aa20–099a
This is a joint alert from the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
This alert provides information on exploitation by cybercriminal and advanced persistent threat (APT) groups of the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. It includes a non-exhaustive list of indicators of compromise (IOCs) for detection as well as mitigation advice.
Both CISA and NCSC are seeing a growing use of COVID-19-related themes by malicious cyber actors. At the same time, the surge in teleworking has increased the use of potentially vulnerable services, such as virtual private networks (VPNs), amplifying the threat to individuals and organizations.
APT groups and cybercriminals are targeting individuals, small and medium enterprises, and large organizations with COVID-19-related scams and phishing emails. This alert provides an overview of COVID-19-related malicious cyber activity and offers practical advice that individuals and organizations can follow to reduce the risk of being impacted. The IOCs provided within the accompanying .csv and .stix files of this alert are based on analysis from CISA, NCSC, and industry.
Note: this is a fast-moving situation and this alert does not seek to catalogue all COVID-19-related malicious cyber activity. Individuals and organizations should remain alert to increased activity relating to COVID-19 and take proactive steps to protect themselves.
Summary of Attacks
APT groups are using the COVID-19 pandemic as part of their cyber operations. These cyber threat actors will often masquerade as trusted entities. Their activity includes using coronavirus-themed phishing messages or malicious applications, often masquerading as trusted entities that may have been previously compromised. Their goals and targets are consistent with long-standing priorities such as espionage and “hack-and-leak” operations.
Cybercriminals are using the pandemic for commercial gain, deploying a variety of ransomware and other malware.
Both APT groups and cybercriminals are likely to continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic over the coming weeks and months. Threats observed include:
- Phishing, using the subject of coronavirus or COVID-19 as a lure,
- Malware distribution, using coronavirus- or COVID-19- themed lures,
- Registration of new domain names containing wording related to coronavirus or COVID-19, and
- Attacks against newly—and often rapidly—deployed remote access and teleworking infrastructure.
Malicious cyber actors rely on basic social engineering methods to entice a user to carry out a specific action. These actors are taking advantage of human traits such as curiosity and concern around the coronavirus pandemic in order to persuade potential victims to:
- Click on a link or download an app that may lead to a phishing website, or the downloading of malware, including ransomware.
- For example, a malicious Android app purports to provide a real-time coronavirus outbreak tracker but instead attempts to trick the user into providing administrative access to install “CovidLock” ransomware on their device.
- Open a file (such as an email attachment) that contains malware.
- For example, email subject lines contain COVID-19-related phrases such as “Coronavirus Update” or “2019-nCov: Coronavirus outbreak in your city (Emergency)”
- To create the impression of authenticity, malicious cyber actors may spoof sender information in an email to make it appear to come from a trustworthy source, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or an individual with “Dr.” in their title. In several examples, actors send phishing emails that contain links to a fake email login page. Other emails purport to be from an organization’s human resources (HR) department and advise the employee to open the attachment.
Malicious file attachments containing malware payloads may be named with coronavirus- or COVID-19-related themes, such as “President discusses budget savings due to coronavirus with Cabinet.rtf.”
CISA and NCSC have both observed a large volume of phishing campaigns that use the social engineering techniques described above.
Examples of phishing email subject lines include:
- 2020 Coronavirus Updates,
- Coronavirus Updates,
- 2019-nCov: New confirmed cases in your City, and
- 2019-nCov: Coronavirus outbreak in your city (Emergency).
These emails contain a call to action, encouraging the victim to visit a website that malicious cyber actors use for stealing valuable data, such as usernames and passwords, credit card information, and other personal information.
Most phishing attempts come by email but NCSC has observed some attempts to carry out phishing by other means, including text messages (SMS).
Historically, SMS phishing has often used financial incentives—including government payments and rebates (such as a tax rebate)—as part of the lure. Coronavirus-related phishing continues this financial theme, particularly in light of the economic impact of the epidemic and governments’ employment and financial support packages. For example, a series of SMS messages uses a UK government-themed lure to harvest email, address, name, and banking information.
Phishing for credential theft
A number of actors have used COVID-19-related phishing to steal user credentials. These emails include previously mentioned COVID-19 social engineering techniques, sometimes complemented with urgent language to enhance the lure.
If the user clicks on the hyperlink, a spoofed login webpage appears that includes a password entry form. These spoofed login pages may relate to a wide array of online services including—but not limited to—email services provided by Google or Microsoft, or services accessed via government websites.
To further entice the recipient, the websites will often contain COVID-19-related wording within the URL (e.g., “corona-virus-business-update,” “covid19-advisory,” or “cov19esupport”). These spoofed pages are designed to look legitimate or accurately impersonate well-known websites. Often the only way to notice malicious intent is through examining the website URL. In some circumstances, malicious cyber actors specifically customize these spoofed login webpages for the intended victim.
If the victim enters their password on the spoofed page, the attackers will be able to access the victim’s online accounts, such as their email inbox. This access can then be used to acquire personal or sensitive information, or to further disseminate phishing emails, using the victim’s address book.
Phishing for malware deployment
A number of threat actors have used COVID-19-related lures to deploy malware. In most cases, actors craft an email that persuades the victim to open an attachment or download a malicious file from a linked website. When the victim opens the attachment, the malware is executed, compromising the victim’s device.
For example, NCSC has observed various email messages that deploy the “Agent Tesla” keylogger malware. The email appears to be sent from Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. This email campaign began on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Another similar campaign offers thermometers and face masks to fight the epidemic. The email purports to attach images of these medical products but instead contains a loader for Agent Tesla.
In other campaigns, emails include a Microsoft Excel attachment (e.g., “8651 8–14–18.xls”) or contain URLs linking to a landing page that contains a button that—if clicked—redirects to download an Excel spreadsheet, such as “EMR Letter.xls”. In both cases, the Excel file contains macros that, if enabled, execute an embedded dynamic-link library (DLL) to install the “Get2 loader” malware. Get2 loader has been observed loading the “GraceWire” Trojan.
As always, we’re here if you need us. Be safe!
|Brent Hudson, MBA-ITM|
vCIO – Managed Services
vCIO – Managed Services