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Do not open contents of the "COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000" email scam

Also Known As: COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000 spam
Damage level: Medium

What is the "COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000" email scam"?

The number of fake emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) organization and claiming to share information regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus) is growing daily. Scammers behind this phishing email attempt to trick recipients into clicking a website link supposedly designed to open a website allowing them to track COVID-19 cases.

At the time of research, the link opened a fake Microsoft Outlook login page, which scammers use to trick recipients into entering their login credentials.

COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000 Email Scam email spam campaign

This fake CDC email has nothing to do with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organization. Cyber criminals commonly disguise their emails as official and important using the names of well-known, legitimate companies, organizations or other parties.

As mentioned, at the time of research, a link within this email opened a fake Outlook login page. Scammers/cyber criminals behind this email attempt to trick recipients into entering their credentials, and then steal their Outlook accounts. It is possible that they could hijack other accounts as well, since users often use an identical password for multiple accounts.

With access to users' Outlook accounts, cyber criminals can spread this scam further or spread other scams, send emails to people with malicious attachments (or website links designed to download malicious files), access emails that might contain sensitive information, etc.

Therefore, scammers might attempt to infect other computers with malicious programs such as ransomware, Trojans, or other malware. Also, steal users' identities, access details (such as credentials of banking-related and other accounts), which could be misused to generate revenue.

Therefore, you are strongly advised not to open attachments or click links in these emails. Note that when credentials are entered into the fake Outlook login, the web page opens a fake World map showing countries with COVID-19 cases. Cyber criminals behind this scam might also modify it and send emails with a different link.

Threat Summary:
Name COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000 Email Scam.
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud.
Fake Claim Scammers claim that this email is related to COVID-19
Symptoms Unauthorized online purchases, changed online account passwords, identity theft, illegal access of the computer.
Distribution methods Deceptive emails, rogue online pop-up ads, search engine poisoning techniques, misspelled domains.
Damage Loss of sensitive private information, monetary loss, identity theft.
Malware Removal (Windows)

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Some more examples of other spam campaigns include "Infect Your Family With CoronaVirus", "Arabitol GLOBAL TRADING" and "I Know A Lot More Things About You". In most cases, scammers behind these emails try to trick recipients into providing private information, sending ransom payments for compromising videos/photos (that do not exist), and so on.

They send these emails to many people and hope that someone will fall for the scam. Therefore, always ignore these emails. Furthermore, they might also contain website links designed to download malicious files or attachments designed to install malware (e.g., Emotet, TrickBot, LokiBot).

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Operating systems become infected through spam campaigns when recipients open files downloaded through website links, or they open malicious attachments. Cyber criminals send emails that contain attached malicious Microsoft Office documents, PDF documents, JavaScript files, executable files (.exe) and archive files such as ZIP, RAR.

The files infect systems when recipients open/execute. Note, however, that Microsoft Office documents infect systems only if users enable editing/macros commands. MS Office 2010 and later versions include Protected View mode, which prevents malicious documents from installing malware on computers.

Older versions do not include this feature and, thus, malicious documents opened with them cause installation of malware without asking any permissions.

How to avoid installation of malware

Do not to open attachments or website links in emails without being sure that it is safe, especially if the emails are received from unknown, suspicious addresses, and/or are irrelevant. Commonly, scammers disguise such emails as important/official, use names of well-known people, companies, etc.

All software should be downloaded using direct links and from official websites. Channels such as third party downloaders, unofficial pages, Peer-to-Peer networks, etc., often are used to proliferate malicious files, programs. It is not safe to use third party installers.

Furthermore, installed software must be updated and activated with tools and implemented functions provided by official software developers. It is illegal to activate licensed software with various software 'cracking' tools. Keep your computer safe by regularly scanning it for threats with reputable antivirus or anti-spyware software.

If you have already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000 Email Scam" email message:

Subject: HIGH ALERT: COVID-19 cases surpassed 300,000 globally

Distributed via the CDC Health Alert Network
March 24, 2020
WHO-CDCHAN-00426

Update list of new cases around your city are available at ( hxxps://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/locations-confirmed-cases.html )

You are immediately advised to go through the cases above to avoid potential hazards.

Sincerely,
Department of Health
National Contact Center
National Center for Health Marketing
Division of eHealth Marketing
Centers for Disease control Prevention

Screenshot of a fake Outlook login page:

fake outlook login website

Screenshot of a fake World map showing countries with COVID-19 cases, which is opened after entering credentials in the fake Outlook page:

scam page that gets opened via fake outlook login website

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Quick menu:

Types of malicious emails:

Phishing email icon Phishing Emails

Most commonly, cybercriminals use deceptive emails to trick Internet users into giving away their sensitive private information, for example, login information for various online services, email accounts, or online banking information.

Such attacks are called phishing. In a phishing attack, cybercriminals usually send an email message with some popular service logo (for example, Microsoft, DHL, Amazon, Netflix), create urgency (wrong shipping address, expired password, etc.), and place a link which they hope their potential victims will click on.

After clicking the link presented in such email message, victims are redirected to a fake website that looks identical or extremely similar to the original one. Victims are then asked to enter their password, credit card details, or some other information that gets stolen by cybercriminals.

Email-virus icon Emails with Malicious Attachments

Another popular attack vector is email spam with malicious attachments that infect users' computers with malware. Malicious attachments usually carry trojans that are capable of stealing passwords, banking information, and other sensitive information.

In such attacks, cybercriminals' main goal is to trick their potential victims into opening an infected email attachment. To achieve this goal, email messages usually talk about recently received invoices, faxes, or voice messages.

If a potential victim falls for the lure and opens the attachment, their computers get infected, and cybercriminals can collect a lot of sensitive information.

While it's a more complicated method to steal personal information (spam filters and antivirus programs usually detect such attempts), if successful, cybercriminals can get a much wider array of data and can collect information for a long period of time.

Sextortion email icon Sextortion Emails

This is a type of phishing. In this case, users receive an email claiming that a cybercriminal could access the webcam of the potential victim and has a video recording of one's masturbation.

To get rid of the video, victims are asked to pay a ransom (usually using Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency). Nevertheless, all of these claims are false - users who receive such emails should ignore and delete them.

How to spot a malicious email?

While cyber criminals try to make their lure emails look trustworthy, here are some things that you should look for when trying to spot a phishing email:

  • Check the sender's ("from") email address: Hover your mouse over the "from" address and check if it's legitimate. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft, be sure to check if the email address is @microsoft.com and not something suspicious like @m1crosoft.com, @microsfot.com, @account-security-noreply.com, etc.
  • Check for generic greetings: If the greeting in the email is "Dear user", "Dear @youremail.com", "Dear valued customer", this should raise suspiciousness. Most commonly, companies call you by your name. Lack of this information could signal a phishing attempt.
  • Check the links in the email: Hover your mouse over the link presented in the email, if the link that appears seems suspicious, don't click it. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft and the link in the email shows that it will go to firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0... you shouldn't trust it. It's best not to click any links in the emails but to visit the company website that sent you the email in the first place.
  • Don't blindly trust email attachments: Most commonly, legitimate companies will ask you to log in to their website and to view any documents there; if you received an email with an attachment, it's a good idea to scan it with an antivirus application. Infected email attachments are a common attack vector used by cybercriminals.

To minimise the risk of opening phishing and malicious emails we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows

Example of a spam email:

Example of an email spam

What to do if you fell for an email scam?

  • If you clicked on a link in a phishing email and entered your password - be sure to change your password as soon as possible. Usually, cybercriminals collect stolen credentials and then sell them to other groups that use them for malicious purposes. If you change your password in a timely manner, there's a chance that criminals won't have enough time to do any damage.
  • If you entered your credit card information - contact your bank as soon as possible and explain the situation. There's a good chance that you will need to cancel your compromised credit card and get a new one.
  • If you see any signs of identity theft - you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission. This institution will collect information about your situation and create a personal recovery plan.
  • If you opened a malicious attachment - your computer is probably infected, you should scan it with a reputable antivirus application. For this purpose, we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.
  • Help other Internet users - report phishing emails to Anti-Phishing Working Group, FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, National Fraud Information Center and U.S. Department of Justice.

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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.

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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.

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