How to avoid installation of malware through 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's a number of variants of Coronavirus spam campaign, cyber criminals spread it with a purpose to deceive recipients into infecting their computers with malicious programs like Agent Tesla, Emotet, LokiBot, Remcos, TrickBot, FormBook, Ave Maria, LimeRAT, CrimsonRAT, and other high-risk malware. They send emails that contain either a website link that is designed to download a malicious file/display unreliable content (e.g., phishing sites) or some malicious attachment. Either way, if opened (executed), those files/attachments install a certain malicious program. We strongly recommend to ignore this email, it has nothing to do with the actual Coronavirus.

Coronavirus Email Virus

This spam campaign variant is disguised as a letter from World Health Organization (WHO) regarding protective measures against the new Coronavirus. It suggests that the attached file or included website link contains information on how to prevent Coronavirus from spreading and avoid being infected with it. However, attached files or a files that get downloaded via the included link are designed to install one or another malicious program. As we mentioned in the introduction, this Coronavirus spam campaign is being used to spread different malicious programs. Either way, it is very likely that cyber criminals behind it attempt to infect computers with some Trojan or ransomware. Nevertheless, they could be using Coronavirus campaign to spread some other type of malware as well. Typically, they spread Trojans that are designed to steal sensitive information like logins, passwords, credit card details (or other banking information), etc., or open backdoors for other malicious software that could allow them do to the same. Ransomware is a type of software that encrypts files so that victims could not decrypt them without a tool (or tools) that usually can be purchased only from its developers. Simply said, victims of ransomware often lose not only data but also money. Research shows that the executable within "CoronaVirus_Safety_Measures.rar" file that is attached to one of the emails of this spam campaign is designed to spread Agent Tesla. A remote access tool which, if installed, allows 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 used to steal accounts, credentials and a variety of other personal details, information. Nevertheless, no matter what malicious software cyber criminals behind this spam campaign attempt to distribute, attachments or website links in it must not be opened. By opening them recipients would risk to experience monetary, data loss, problems related to privacy, browsing safety, have 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 is disguised as a letter 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.
Removal

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Here are other examples of spam campaigns that cyber criminals use/used with a purpose to trick recipients into installing malicious software: "Greta Thunberg Email Virus", "Christmas Party Email" and "UPS Email Virus". In most cases these spam campaigns are disguised as important, official letters from legitimate companies. Either way, recipients who open attachments or files downloaded through website links that are included in such emails infect their systems with high-risk malware that cyber criminals spread with a purpose to generate revenue in one or another way.

How did "Coronavirus Email Virus" infect my computer?

Research shows that cyber criminals spread malware through this spam campaign either by including some website link or attaching a malicious file to their email. Most commonly used file formats to spread malware through emails (attachments and/or website links in them) are malicious Microsoft Office, PDF document, executable file like .exe, archive file like ZIP, RAR or JavaScript file. Typically, those files infect systems when recipients execute (open) them. For example, if an attachment (or a file downloaded through a link) is a MS Office document and it is opened with a Microsoft Office 2010 or later, then it will asks for a permission to enable macros commands (editing). By getting such permission malicious document is allowed to install some malicious program. It is worth mentioning that older MS Office versions (that were developed before year 2010) do not include the Protected View mode. It means that they install malware without asking any permission.

How to avoid installation of malware?

No software should be downloaded (or installed) through third party downloaders (or installers), unofficial websites, Peer-to-Peer networks (e.g., torrent clients, eMule), and other similar tools, sources. It should be done by using official websites and direct links. Installed software should not be updated via unofficial, third party tools. The only safe way to achieve it is by using implemented functions and/or tools that are provided by official developers. The same applies to activation of licensed (paid) software. Besides, it is not legal to use various unofficial activation ('cracking') tools for that 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. It is worth mentioning that cyber criminals tend to disguise their emails as official, important, legitimate, etc. Attachments and/or website links in emails should be opened only when there is no reason to believe that it may be unsafe. And finally, it is important to regularly scan the operating system with a reputable anti-spyware or antivirus suite installed and remove detected threats as soon as possible. If you've already opened "Coronavirus Email Virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Spyhunter for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

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

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 "Coronavirus Email Virus" email letter:

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 "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

Crooks 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 (written 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 related to 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 email spam 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 March 20, 2020 - Cyber criminals have recently started a new email spam campaign to distribute RedLineStealer. They send thousands of deceptive emails asking for help to perform medical research relating to Coronavirus. They ask users to install a certain software that will supposedly use recipient's computer to perform various calculations and, thus, help the researchers. The app they encourage users to install is called Folding@home. Now keep in mind that this application actually exists and it is completely legitimate. However, this spam campaign is just a disguise - instead of installing the aforementioned Folding@home application crooks inject RedLineStealer into the system. You can find a bit more details in Lawrence Abram's article posted in Bleeping Computer.

Appearance of a spam email used to distribute RedLineStealer by disguising it as 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

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Spyhunter 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 Spyhunter 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 Spyhunter 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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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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