How to avoid installation of malware through the Coronavirus spam campaign

Also Known As: Coronavirus spam campaign
Type: Trojan
Distribution: Moderate
Damage level: Severe

"Coronavirus Email Virus" removal guide

What is "Coronavirus Email Virus"?

There are a number of variants of the Coronavirus spam campaign. Cyber criminals use it to deceive recipients into infecting their computers with malicious programs such as Agent Tesla, Emotet, LokiBot, Remcos, TrickBot, FormBook, Ave Maria, LimeRAT, CrimsonRAT, and other high-risk malware. They send emails that contain 1) a website link that downloads a malicious file/display dubious content (e.g., phishing sites), or 2) a malicious attachment. In any case, if opened and executed, these files/attachments install a malicious program. We strongly recommend that you ignore this email, which has nothing to do with the coronavirus.

Coronavirus Email Virus

This spam campaign variant is disguised as a message from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding protective measures against the new coronavirus. It suggests that the attached file or included website link contains information about how to prevent coronavirus from spreading and avoid being infected. In fact, the attached files that are downloaded via the included link install another malicious program. This coronavirus spam campaign is used to spread different malicious programs. It is likely that the cyber criminals responsible attempt to infect computers with a Trojan or ransomware. They might also use a coronavirus campaign to spread other types of malware. Typically, they proliferate Trojans that steal sensitive information such as logins, passwords, credit card details (or other banking information), etc., or open 'backdoors' for other malicious software to infiltrate. Ransomware encrypts files so that victims cannot recover them without specific tools that can only be purchased from the developers. In this way, victims of ransomware often lose data and money. Research shows that the executable within the "CoronaVirus_Safety_Measures.rar" file, which is attached to one of the emails of this spam campaign, spreads Agent Tesla. This is a remote access tool, which, if installed, allows criminals to take control over the infected computer. One of its main features is keylogging - it can be used to record system keystrokes (record pressed keys). This feature can be employed to steal accounts, credentials and various other personal information. Regardless of what malicious software cyber criminals behind this spam campaign attempt to distribute, attachments and website links must never be opened. By opening them, recipients risk experiencing monetary/data loss, problems relating to privacy, browsing safety, having their identities stolen, and other serious issues.

Threat Summary:
Name Coronavirus spam campaign
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax This spam campaign delivers emails disguised as messages regarding protective measures against the coronavirus.
Attachment(s) CoronaVirus_Safety_Measures.rar
Detection Names (CoronaVirus_Safety_Measures.rar) Arcabit (Trojan.AutoIT.Agent.AAJ), Emsisoft (Trojan.AutoIT.Agent.AAJ (B)), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Injector.Autoit.FAQ), Kaspersky (Trojan-Dropper.Win32.Autit.nlm), Full List Of Detections (VirusTotal)
Symptoms Trojans are designed to stealthily infiltrate the victim's computer and remain silent, and thus no particular symptoms are clearly visible on an infected machine.
Payload Agent Tesla, Emotet, LokiBot, Remcos, TrickBot, FormBook, Ave Maria, LimeRAT, CrimsonRAT, and a variety of other malicious programs.
Distribution methods Infected email attachments, malicious online advertisements, social engineering, software 'cracks'.
Damage Stolen passwords and banking information, identity theft, the victim's computer added to a botnet.
Malware Removal (Windows)

To eliminate possible malware infections, scan your computer with legitimate antivirus software. Our security researchers recommend using Malwarebytes.
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Other examples of spam campaigns used by cyber criminals to trick recipients into installing malicious software include "Greta Thunberg Email Virus", "Christmas Party Email" and "UPS Email Virus". In most cases, these campaigns are disguised as important, official messages from legitimate companies. Recipients who open attachments or files downloaded through website links included in such emails often infect their systems with high-risk malware, which cyber criminals spread to generate revenue in various ways.

How did "Coronavirus Email Virus" infect my computer?

Research shows that cyber criminals spread malware through this spam campaign by including a website link or attaching a malicious file to their emails. Most commonly used file formats to spread malware through emails (attachments and/or website links within them) are malicious Microsoft Office, PDF document, executable file such as .exe, archive file (ZIP, RAR) or JavaScript files. Typically, these files infect systems when recipients execute (open) them. For example, if an attachment (or a file downloaded through a link) is an MS Office document and it is opened with a Microsoft Office 2010 or later, it will ask permission to enable macros commands (editing). By granting this permission, the malicious document is allowed to install a malicious program. Older MS Office versions (developed before 2010) do not include 'Protected View mode' and, therefore, install malware without asking permission.

How to avoid installation of malware

No software should be downloaded or installed through third party downloaders/installers, unofficial websites, Peer-to-Peer networks (e.g., torrent clients, eMule), or other such tools/sources. Use official websites and direct links. Installed software should not be updated via unofficial, third party tools. The only safe way to achieve is to use implemented functions/tools that are provided by official developers. The same applies to activation of licensed (paid) software. Furthermore, it is illegal to use unofficial activation ('cracking') tools and they often cause installation of malware. Attachments that are included in irrelevant emails that are received from unknown, suspicious addresses should not be opened. Cyber criminals tend to disguise their emails as official, important, legitimate, etc. Attachments and/or website links in emails should be opened only only when it is safe to do so. Regularly scan the operating system with a reputable anti-spyware or antivirus suite and remove detected threats immediately. If you have already opened "Coronavirus Email Virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in one variant of the "Coronavirus Email Virus" email message:

Subject: Coronavirus (2019 -nCov) Safety Measures
Dear Sir/Madam,

Go through the attached document on safety measures regarding the spreading of corona virus.

This little measure can save you.

WHO is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus and to provide advice on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak.

Symptoms to look out for; Common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.

Regards

Dr Liang -

Intensive Care Physician

WHO Plague Prevention & Control

Screenshot of another variant of the "Coronavirus Email Virus" email message:

coronavirus email virus another variant

Text in this email:

Subject: Re:SAFTY CORONA VIRUS AWARENESS WHO

Dear Sir,

Go through the attached document on safety measures regarding the spreading of corona virus.

Click on the button below to download


Symptoms common symptoms include fever, coughcshortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Regards.


Dr. Stella

Specialist wuhan-virus-advisory

Screenshot a malicious file which is distributed through the "Coronavirus Email Virus" spam campaign and is detected as threat by a number of virus detection engines on VirusTotal:

file in a coronavirus spam campaign detected as a threat in virustotal 

Another malicious attachment (a VBS file) distributed via coronavirus-related email spam campaigns. This attachment is designed to inject systems with Remcos RAT:

Coronavirus-related email spam campaigns spreading Remcos RAT

Criminals have recently released another variant coronavirus-related spam campaign which promotes Remcos RAT, Ave Maria Trojan and LimeRAT:

Coronavirus-related spam email spreading Remcos RAT, Ave Maria trojan and LimeRAT

Text presented within this email:

Dear Industry Partners,

Due to recent announcement by Chinese's Government on spread of Corona Virus, customers traveling to/from WUH / SHA / BJS / CAN can opt to change their flights as The outbreak of coronavirus update china today continue see the attachment and the countries that has been affected below:

Booking and Ticketing Guidelines:

Below options are available for tickets issued on/ before 24th February 2020 and travelling till 29th March 2020

Re booking:
General Waiver Policy must be used for tickets issued on/ before 24th February 20 travel is to/from to/from WUH / SHA / BJS / CAN.
Travel to/from WUH must be via EK online points (SHA / BJS / CAN)
Customers can opt to change their flights within 7 days than originally booked

Reroute:
Reroute is permitted as per General Waiver Policy
Offer reroute within 7 days than originally booked as per General Waiver guidelines.
EK will not provide onward transportation or booking beyond the preferred destination.

Refund:

1. Travelling to/ from WUH: Refund option is only applicable for customers travelling 1 month from date of incident (23 January 2020 - 23 February 2020) as per General Waiver guidelines. Outside this period refund charges will be applicable as per fare terms and conditions.
2. Travelling to / from SHA / BJS / CAN : Refund option is available for customers travelling from 24 February to March 29th 2020. Outside this period refund charges will be applicable as per fare terms and conditions.

a. Refund request must be made using the refund form online *******. Inform our customers to update comments "Refund request due to Corona virus" when initiating request. This will fall in central refunds queue for manual action and will avoid refund charges being applied to tickets.

Please contact our call center on ******* OR visit ******* for more details

Yet another variant of coronavirus-related spam campaign which is used to spread FormBook virus:

Coronavirus-related email spam used to spread FormBook trojan

Text presented within this email:

Subject: CORONA-VIRUS AFFECTED COMPANY STAFF

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN Find the attached file of victims and predicting victims of corona Virus as at 22/02/20. This list contains pictures,countries,names and companies affected. Dr Li Wei 26 Shengli St, Jiang'an District, Wuhan, Hubei, China +862782814009 Hubei hxxp://www.zxhospital.com/

Screenshot of the malicious attachment's ("LIST.ARJ") detections in VirusTotal:

Malicious LIST.ARJ file used to inject FormBook trojan into the system

Yet another coronavirus-related spam email (in Italian) which distributes TrickBot trojan:

Coronavirus spam email distributing TrickBot

Text presented within this email:

Subject: Coronavirus: Informazioni importanti su precauzioni

Gentile Signore/Signora,

A causa del fatto che nella Sua zona sono documentati casi di infezione dal coronavirus, l'Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità ha preparato un documento che comprende tutte le precauzioni necessarie contro l'infezione dal coronavirus. Le consigliamo vivamente di leggere il documento allegato a questo messaggio!

Distinti saluti,
Dr. Penelope Marchetti (Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità - Italia)

Yet another variant of a spam email relating to the coronavirus. The email delivers a malicious MS Excel document ("COVID-19 Recomendaton_Precations_Desinfection.xlam") which injects Skidware RAT into the system:

Coronavirus email virus spreading Skidware RAT

Text presented within this email:

Dear Lord/Lady,

Due to the fact that cases of coronavirus infection are documented in your area, The World Health Organiation has prepared a document that includes all necessary precations against coronavirus infection.

We strongly recommend that you read document attached to this message!

Sincerely.

Dr. Penelope Marchetti,
World Health Organization (W H O).

Pop-up window asking to enable macro commands once the malicious attachment is opened:

Pop-up asking to enable macro commands once the malicious MS Excel file is opened

Yet another malicious Microsoft Excel document ("36978_1582552996_NHQEncl1.xls1") distributed using coronavirus-related spam email campaigns. This malicious document injects CrimsonRAT into the system using macro commands:

Malicious Coronavirus-related MS Excel document injecting Remcos RAT into the system

Text presented within the document:

HEALTH ADVISORY: CORONA VIRUS
1. Traineers & workes  from foreign countries attend courses at various indian Establishment and trg Inst.
2. The outbreak of CORONA VIRUS is cause of concern especially where forign personal have recently arrived or will be arriving at various Intt in near future.
3. In order to prevent spread of CORONA VIRUS at Training establishments, preventive measure needs to be taken & advisories is reqt to be circulated to all Instt & Establishments.
4. In view of above,you are requested to issue necessery directions to all concerned Medical Establishments. Treat matter most Urgent.

Update 20 March 2020 - Cyber criminals have recently started a new spam email campaign to distribute RedLineStealer. They send thousands of deceptive emails asking for help to perform medical research relating to the coronavirus. They ask users to install specific software that will supposedly use the recipient's computer to perform various calculations and, thus, help the researchers. The app they encourage users to install is called Folding@home. Bear in mind that this application actually exists and it is legitimate, however, this spam campaign is simply a disguise: rather than installing the aforementioned Folding@home application, criminals inject RedLineStealer into the system. You can find more detail in Lawrence Abram's article posted in Bleeping Computer.

Appearance of a spam email used to distribute RedLineStealer by disguising it as the Folding@home application:

RedLine stealer-promoting email spam campaign

Text presented within this email:

Subject: Please help us Fighting corona-virus

Greetings from Mobility Research Inc  and Folding@Thome As we all know, recently corona-virus is becoming a major threat to the human society. We are a leading institution working on the cure to solve this world-wide crisis. However, we need your help. With your contribution, you can speed up our process of finding the cure. The process is very simple, you will need to install an app on your computer, which will allow us to use it to run simulations of the cure. The process is very simple, you will need to install an app on your computer, which allow us to use it to run simulations of the cure. This is totally controllable by you and you can be switched on/off when you are comfortable to. This will greatly help us and perhaps stop the corona-virus before it is too late.
Thank you, your Mobility Research Inc  and Folding@Thome

If you would like to read more about our organisation, click here:

Folding@Thome

Example of a phishing email relating to the coronavirus:

Coronavirus-related phishing email

Text presented within this email:

Subject: **** I NEED YOUR URGENT RESPONSE

Este é um e-mail de pedido de informações via *** de:
Gunter Gram ;

Dear friend,
My names is Mr. Gunter Luz Gram, I’m a lawyer base in Vienna Austria i hope you and your family are safe from this Covid-19. Well, i have previously sent you an email regarding a transaction of US$9.2 Million left behind by my late client before his tragic death.
However, I am contacting you once again because after going through your profile, I strongly believe that you will be in a better position to execute this business transaction with me.
Please if you are interested to proceed with me, kindly respond to my email urgently for more detail.
Please Stay Safe and I look forward to your response.
Regards,
Mr. Gunter L Gram
Email: gunter@glplawfirms.com
Telephone: +43 670 309 9097

Example of yet another Coronavirus-themed spam email used to spread TrickBot malware (the malicious attachment is a MS Excel document):

Coronavirus-themed spam email spreading TrickBot trojan

Text presented within:

Subject: coronavirus (covid-19) paycheck application form

Good day,

Our own files point out that you might be eligible for coronavirus CoVid-19 standard settlements. Coronavirus Covid-19 Standard Pandemic Paycheck is the modified community welfare paycheck for individuals who in any way have been inflicted by the CoVid-19 public health crisis.

Please find the File included in the attachment with this notification.

We want the general info relating to your own situation. Any and all info will likely be employed in an effort to determine your qualification. Completing this form isn't a promise or determination for a grant, but enables you to sign up for federal government or state assistance.

Most sincerely, Genesis Phillips
United States Volunteer Group
# 57523-0108

Screenshot of the malicious attachment:

Malicious MS Excel document spreading TrickBot trojan (distributed via Coronavirus-themed spam email)

Appearance of a spam email used to spread a coronavirus-themed PDF document which is used for phishing purposes:

Coronavirus-themed spam email which distributes a phishing document

Text presented within:

Find attached document for more details

Appearance of the PDF document (GIF):

Coronavirus-themed PDF document used for phishing purposes

Text presented within:

ATTN: Beneficiary,
You have been selected in the Microsoft/COVID 19 compensation Award prize of
FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS (US$500,000.00) only. The participants
were emerged through random selection of all active email subscribers online at the
head office in United State America.
Our mode of payment are bank to bank transfer and winners shall be paid in
accordance with his/her settlement center.Microsoft/COVID 19 compensation must
be claimed no later than 29 days from date of notification,any prize not claimed
within this period will be forfeited. Stated below are your identification numbers.
Batch Number: YPB/08/APA-878547 Reference Number: COVID 19/560992020
Award File No: US/QU863224.
Your award winning file No: US/QU863224 falls within the Johannesburg location
file; you are requested to contact our fiduciary agent in Johannesburg South Africa
and send your identification numbers to him.
CONTACT AGENT
NAME: Dr. Jane Robert.
E-mail: dr.janerobert@websurfer.co.za
Contact No: +27 787 707 253
You are advised to send the following information to your claim agent to facilitate the
release of your fund to you.
1. Full Name:
2. Contact address:
3. Country:
4. Telephone number
5. Marital Status:
6. Occupation
7. Gender:
8. Date of birth:
To file your claim, please contact your validating officer for validation of your prize
within twenty-nine working days of this notification, Prize that are not validated
within twenty-nine working days of notification are termed void and invalid. You are
required to mention the above particulars of your prize in every correspondence to
enable our agent in Johannesburg South Africa validate you prize.
Congratulations once again
Mrs. Evely Paulson.
Processing Manager
Microsoft Award/Covid 19 Compensation Fund.
NOTE: YOUR DETAILS ARE STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL. SHOULD WE
OBSERVE DUAL CLAIMS WITH YOUR DETAILS, IT COULD LEAD TO
CANCELLATION OF YOUR FILE WITHOUT NOTIFICATION

Example of yet another coronavirus-themed spam email which is used to distribute a malicious MS Excel document designed to inject TrickBot trojan into the system:

Coronavirus-themed spam email used to spread TrickBot

Text presented within:

Subject: My Coronavirus COVID-19 exposure list

Hey,

Our family a short while ago experienced a contact with a Coronavirus COVID-19 positive individuals.
You can see List that contains Names list in the attachment.

Sincerely Yours, Isabelle

Screenshot of the attached MS Excel document:

MS Excel document (distributed via Coronavirus-themed spam emails) designed to inject TrickBot trojan into the system

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Malwarebytes is a professional automatic malware removal tool that is recommended to get rid of malware. Download it by clicking the button below:
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How to remove malware manually?

Manual malware removal is a complicated task - usually it is best to allow antivirus or anti-malware programs to do this automatically. To remove this malware we recommend using Malwarebytes for Windows. If you wish to remove malware manually, the first step is to identify the name of the malware that you are trying to remove. Here is an example of a suspicious program running on a user's computer:

malicious process running on user's computer sample

If you checked the list of programs running on your computer, for example, using task manager, and identified a program that looks suspicious, you should continue with these steps:

manual malware removal step 1Download a program called Autoruns. This program shows auto-start applications, Registry, and file system locations:

screenshot of autoruns application

manual malware removal step 2Restart your computer into Safe Mode:

Windows XP and Windows 7 users: Start your computer in Safe Mode. Click Start, click Shut Down, click Restart, click OK. During your computer start process, press the F8 key on your keyboard multiple times until you see the Windows Advanced Option menu, and then select Safe Mode with Networking from the list.

Safe Mode with Networking

Video showing how to start Windows 7 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Windows 8 users: Start Windows 8 is Safe Mode with Networking - Go to Windows 8 Start Screen, type Advanced, in the search results select Settings. Click Advanced startup options, in the opened "General PC Settings" window, select Advanced startup. Click the "Restart now" button. Your computer will now restart into the "Advanced Startup options menu". Click the "Troubleshoot" button, and then click the "Advanced options" button. In the advanced option screen, click "Startup settings". Click the "Restart" button. Your PC will restart into the Startup Settings screen. Press F5 to boot in Safe Mode with Networking.

Windows 8 Safe Mode with networking

Video showing how to start Windows 8 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

Windows 10 users: Click the Windows logo and select the Power icon. In the opened menu click "Restart" while holding "Shift" button on your keyboard. In the "choose an option" window click on the "Troubleshoot", next select "Advanced options". In the advanced options menu select "Startup Settings" and click on the "Restart" button. In the following window you should click the "F5" button on your keyboard. This will restart your operating system in safe mode with networking.

windows 10 safe mode with networking

Video showing how to start Windows 10 in "Safe Mode with Networking":

 

manual malware removal step 3Extract the downloaded archive and run the Autoruns.exe file.

extract autoruns.zip and run autoruns.exe

manual malware removal step 4In the Autoruns application, click "Options" at the top and uncheck "Hide Empty Locations" and "Hide Windows Entries" options. After this procedure, click the "Refresh" icon.

Click 'Options' at the top and uncheck 'Hide Empty Locations' and 'Hide Windows Entries' options

manual malware removal step 5Check the list provided by the Autoruns application and locate the malware file that you want to eliminate.

You should write down its full path and name. Note that some malware hides process names under legitimate Windows process names. At this stage, it is very important to avoid removing system files. After you locate the suspicious program you wish to remove, right click your mouse over its name and choose "Delete".

locate the malware file you want to remove

After removing the malware through the Autoruns application (this ensures that the malware will not run automatically on the next system startup), you should search for the malware name on your computer. Be sure to enable hidden files and folders before proceeding. If you find the filename of the malware, be sure to remove it.

searching for malware file on your computer

Reboot your computer in normal mode. Following these steps should remove any malware from your computer. Note that manual threat removal requires advanced computer skills. If you do not have these skills, leave malware removal to antivirus and anti-malware programs. These steps might not work with advanced malware infections. As always it is best to prevent infection than try to remove malware later. To keep your computer safe, install the latest operating system updates and use antivirus software.

To be sure your computer is free of malware infections, we recommend scanning it with Malwarebytes for Windows.

About the author:

Tomas Meskauskas

Tomas Meskauskas - expert security researcher, professional malware analyst.

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of over 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an author and editor for pcrisk.com since 2010. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay informed about the latest online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

PCrisk security portal is brought by a company RCS LT. Joined forces of security researchers help educate computer users about the latest online security threats. More information about the company RCS LT.

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Removal Instructions in other languages
Malware activity

Global malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

Increased attack rate of infections detected within the last 24 hours.

QR Code
Coronavirus spam campaign QR code
A QR code (Quick Response Code) is a machine-readable code which stores URLs and other information. This code can be read using a camera on a smartphone or a tablet. Scan this QR code to have an easy access removal guide of Coronavirus spam campaign on your mobile device.
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