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Coronavirus-themed emails used by cybercriminals to spread malware, report says


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.

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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.


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