A woman uses her computer keyboard to type while surfing the internet in North Vancouver, B.C., on December, 19, 2012. A U.S. cyber security company says criminal groups are exploiting fears over the new coronavirus to attack the global shipping industry.California-based Proofpoint says it has detected a new email campaign that uses Microsoft Word attachments designed to trick recipients into installing a type of malware known as AZORult. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Cybercriminals using coronavirus-themed emails to deliver malware: report

The new campaign uses emails with bogus Microsoft Word attachments

Criminal groups are exploiting fears over the recent novel coronavirus outbreak in an email phishing campaign directed at the global shipping industry, according to a report issued Monday by a California-based cybersecurity firm.

Proofpoint said the new campaign uses emails with bogus Microsoft Word attachments that are designed to install a type of malware known as AZORult.

AZORult has been around since at least 2016 and can be used to install ransomware, which is designed to lock legitimate users out of their computer systems until a ransom is paid.

“In these (coronavirus-related) attacks, we don’t see AZORult downloading ransomware currently,” Proofpoint said.

“However, because of AZORult’s configurable nature and past use in conjunction with ransomware that remains a real threat.”

Proofpoint didn’t provide statistics on how many actual coronavirus-themed malicious emails have been detected or how much damage has been caused by coronavirus-themed malicious emails.

The Canadian government’s Centre for Cyber Security said in an email that it was aware of both the AZORult malware and coronavirus-related phishing campaigns but didn’t comment specifically on the Proofpoint report.

“Cyber actors tend to use social engineering and topical subjects to lure their targets to click on a malicious link,” the centre said.

Its website cyber.gc.ca provides alerts and advice for spotting and dealing with email scams, known as phishing, and more targeted campaigns known as spear-phishing that focus on personal characteristics, interests or lines of work.

“Employees are privy to important and sensitive information, and as a result, often receive malicious emails that are intended to provide cyber intruders access to this information,” the agency says.

The RCMP said it is aware of this latest malware threat, but is not aware of any reported victims.

“We always urge caution in handling unsolicited email and we suggest recipients avoid opening attachments or clicking links from unknown senders. If you are a victim of cybercrime, report it to your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre,” said spokeswoman Catherine Fortin.

U.S. cybersecurity firm Sophos said last week that it had learned of a scam that used fake emails pretending to be safety instructions from the World Health Organization.

“Fortunately, at least for fluent speakers of English, the criminals have made numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes that act as warning signs that this is not what it seems,” Sophos said in a blog post dated Feb. 5.

Proofpoint said in its posting that the narrowly focused campaign it detected seems to originate from Russia and Eastern Europe but there’s no evidence linking the actors to a known criminal group.

However, it says the attackers seem to be sophisticated and have targeted industries that are susceptible to shipping disruptions including manufacturing, industrial, finance, transportation, pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies.

“A coronavirus-related shipping supply disruption would negatively impact each of the company types listed above and it’s clear these attackers are aware that a major event like coronavirus can have secondary impacts on industries.

“This awareness demonstrates not just technical sophistication, but economic sophistication as well,” Proofpoint said in its article.

Proofpoint advised workers to exercise caution when presented with coronavirus-themed email messages and attachments, as well as links and websites that could be used by criminals as lures.

READ MORE: Canadian coronavirus evacuee describes life under quarantine at CFB Trenton

Meanwhile, health officials in Canada have repeatedly stressed that the coronavirus currently poses a low risk to the public in this country. Seven cases have been identified in Canada, while worldwide, the illness known as 2019-nCoV has sickened more than 37,000 people and killed more than 800, nearly all in China.

Nevertheless, Canadians are being urged to remain vigilant against infection, with medical experts advising good hygiene practices such as washing hands frequently and coughing or sneezing into tissue.

— with a file from Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

David Paddon, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Beaver Creek home hit by fire

Cause of the late night fire is still undetermined

BCHL: Bulldogs set to face Clippers in Round One of BCHL playoffs

Alberni Valley Bulldogs have won two out of eight games against Nanaimo this season

Maple Leafs alumni take over Alberni Valley Multiplex

Inclusion Cup raises funds for Port Alberni Association for Community Living

Coldest Night event raises $33K in Port Alberni

Elementary school students raise $445 with daytime walk

Juno-nominated teen singer from Port Alberni to appear on ‘American Idol’

Lauren Spencer-Smith up for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year for ‘Unplugged, Vol. 1’

Protecting privacy key to stopping spread of COVID-19, B.C. health officials say

The number of coronavirus cases in B.C. remains at seven

Toffoli scores OT winner as Canucks beat Habs 4-3

Demko makes 37 saves for Vancouver

Private clinics would harm ‘ordinary’ people using public system in B.C.: lawyer

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced in 2018 that the government would begin to fine doctors $10,000

B.C. terminates contract with hospice society refusing assisted death

Delta Hospice Society loses hospital service fund of $1.5 million

Child in hospital following fatal crash that killed father, sibling on B.C. highway

The single vehicle crash occured near Kamloops on Highway 5A

‘Die!’: Vernon councillor mailed death threat

This story contains information that might be sensitive to some readers

Hidden message connects Castlegar homeowners decades apart

The Rodgers family was surprised when a message fell out of the walls as they were renovating

Two B.C. men plead guilty to bus-terminal assault of man with autism in Ontario

Parmvir Chahil and Jaspaul Uppal due to be sentenced in June for aggravated assault

Most Read