Do not trust the "COVID-19 Relief" email

Also Known As: ZLoader/Zeus virus
Type: Trojan
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Severe

"COVID-19 Relief" email virus removal guide

What is the "COVID-19 Relief" email virus?

"COVID-19 Relief" is the subject of a scam email, used to infect recipients' systems with ZLoader malware, which injects the Zeus banking trojan. Much as the title/subject implies, "COVID-19 Relief" emails are part of a Coronavirus/COVID-19 themed spam campaign, which is but one of many that abuse this pandemic. These letters are targeting Canadian users, by claiming that recipients need to fill-out a form to receive financial relief payments, approved by Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada.

COVID-19 Relief Email Virus malware-spreading email spam campaign

The "COVID-19 Relief" email informs recipients that the Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau has approved of relief payments for residents, who have chosen to stay at home during the Coronavirus pandemic. The relief payment is 2,500 CAD (Canadian dollars); to receive it, users must fill-out a request form. The email also gives a deadline for the form submission. The supposed request form is a password-protected Microsoft Office document (.DOC or .DOCX), titled "COVID 19 Relief". After the password is entered (it is provided in the email), the document requests users to enable macro commands, once enabled - the installation of ZLoader malware is initiated. This malicious program then begins infecting the system with the Zeus banking trojan. Zeus malware is designed to steal information stored in browsers, primarily targeting credentials (i.e. log-ins and passwords) of various accounts. Furthermore, this trojan has keylogging abilities, which means that the privacy of any and all typed information can be compromised. For example, cyber criminals can use hijacked e-commerce accounts and/or credit card details to make only purchases. Via use of social engineering, criminals can trick users into providing authentication codes and other details that are necessary for access to accounts that have advanced verification (e.g. banking accounts). In summary, trusting "COVID-19 Relief" email will compromise device integrity and can lead to severe privacy issues, identity theft and significant financial losses. If it is known/suspected that the system is already infected with the Zeus trojan (or other malware), it is strongly recommended to use an anti-virus software to remove it immediately.

Threat Summary:
Name ZLoader/Zeus virus
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax Email claims recipients can try claiming a relief payment by filling-out a request form.
Attachment(s) COVID 19 Relief.doc
Detection Names BitDefender (VBA.Logan.8.Gen), Fortinet (BA/Agent.F7E1!tr.dldr), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan.MSOffice.Agent.gen), Emsisoft (VBA.Logan.8.Gen (B)), 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 ZLoader malware, which injects Zeus banking trojan.
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)

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"COVID-19 Insurance Plan From CIGNA", "Coronavirus Face Mask", "COVID-19 Solution Announced by WHO" are a few examples of other Coronavirus/COVID-19 spam campaigns, similar to "COVID-19 Relief"; "Your friend’s account was compromised", "HARASSMENT COMPLAINT" and "Secret Love" are examples of campaigns that use different scam models. Deceptive letters used to distribute malware are often disguised as "official", "important", "urgent" and similar; they can even reference or be disguised as mail from legitimate organizations, institutions, companies, services, etc. These emails have just one purpose - to generate profit for the cyber criminals behind them.

How did the "COVID-19 Relief" email infect my computer?

Systems are infected trough virulent files sent during spam campaigns. These files can be attached to the emails or alternatively, the letters can contain download links of such. Malicious files can be in various formats, e.g. Microsoft Office and PDF documents, archive (ZIP, RAR) and executable (.exe, .run) files, JavaScript, etc. The infection process (i.e. download/installation of malware) is triggered, when the infectious file is executed, run or otherwise opened. For example, upon being opened Microsoft Office docs request users to enable macro commands, in other words - to enable editing; if that is done, the infection process begins. However, this process begins automatically when the document is opened in MS Office programs released prior to 2010.

How to avoid installation of malware?

Suspicious and/or irrelevant emails should not be opened, especially ones received from unknown/suspect senders. Any attachments or links present in dubious mail must not be opened, as that can potentially lead to a high-risk infection. Additionally, it is recommended to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010. These versions have "Protected View" mode, which prevents immediate download/installation of malware, when a malicious document is opened. Aside from spam campaigns, malicious programs are proliferated using illegal activation tools ("cracks"), fake updaters and untrustworthy download channels (e.g. unofficial and free file-hosting sites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks and other third party downloaders). Therefore, it is strongly advised to always activate and update products with tools/functions, provided by legitimate developers. Furthermore, only official and verified download sources should be used. It is crucial to device and user safety to have a dependable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed and kept updated. This software is to be used for regular system scans and to remove detected threats/issues. If you've already opened "COVID-19 Relief Email Virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "COVID-19 Relief Email Virus" email letter:

Subject: COVID-19 Relief

 

Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau approved an immediate check of $2,500.00 -/CAD for those who choose to stay at home during the Coronavirus crisis.
Here is the form for the request. Please fill it out and submit it no later than 25/03/2020.

 

Password is 1234

Appearance of the malicious attachment ("COVID 19 Relief") distributed via "COVID-19 Relief Email Virus" spam campaign (GIF):

Malicious attachment distributed through COVID-19 Relief Email Virus spam campaign

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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Malware activity

Global malware activity level today:

Medium threat activity

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

QR Code
ZLoader/Zeus virus QR code
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