Do not trust malware-proliferating the "COVID 19 HELP DESK" email

Also Known As: Agent Tesla virus
Type: Trojan
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Severe

"COVID 19 HELP DESK" email virus removal guide

What is the "COVID 19 HELP DESK" email?

"COVID 19 HELP DESK" is the subject of a scam email designed to proliferate the Agent Tesla Remote Access Trojan (RAT). This message attempts to exploit the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that the recipient has been chosen to receive a large sum of money from The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) to provide necessities for low-earning local individuals. Additionally, this deceptive message asks recipients to provide their personal information. The Agent Tesla malware infection and the information extorted through the phishing attempt can be misused in a variety of ways and lead to especially severe issues.

COVID 19 HELP DESK Email Virus malware-spreading email spam campaign

The "COVID 19 HELP DESK" message is poorly structured, of a dubious nature, and contains various grammatical errors. This is common to deceptive/scam emails. The email states that The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have partnered to fight Coronavirus/COVID-19. These organizations have apparently donated a large sum to alleviate the impact of the pandemic (although, in the message itself, the word "alliterative" is incorrectly used in this context). The email then informs recipients that they have been selected as a beneficiary to receive five hundred thousand US dollars to provide necessities. For example, food, face masks, hand sanitizer and COVID-19 test kits. This aid is supposedly to ensure that low-earning local people are are provided with what they need. While the message is crudely constructed, it could potentially make sense if sent to representatives of organizations/institutions capable of obtaining and distributing the equipment. This is not the case for everyday individuals who would generally be unable to procure any of the listed products, especially the medical necessities. Whether these intentions seem valid or otherwise, some recipients might be fooled by the scam. The message ends with a list of information that recipients must provide to supposedly receive the promised funds. The data comprises a scan of the recipient's personal identification card, name, address, mobile telephone number and payment information (e.g. bank account number and similar details). This information is then misused to make fraudulent transactions and online purchases. Furthermore, the archived file attached to the email contains the executable file associated with the Agent Tesla RAT. If this malicious file is executed (i.e., opened), it will initiate installation of the malware, which is primarily used to steal data. To summarize, all of the information provided by the "COVID 19 HELP DESK" is false, and trusting it can result in financial loss, serious privacy issues and identity theft.

Threat Summary:
Name Agent Tesla virus
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax Email claims recipients have been selected to receive large funds to distribute coronavirus aid to their region.
Attachment(s) HELP DESK.zip containing SAVOXR.exe
Detection Names BitDefender (Gen:Variant.Ursu.819372), DrWeb (Trojan.InjectNET.14), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of MSIL/GenKryptik.EIJA), Kaspersky (HEUR:Trojan-PSW.MSIL.Agensla.gen), 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
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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Deceptive/Scam emails are distributed using large scale operations called "spam campaigns". "COVID-19 Stimulus", "COVID-19 Pandemic", "World Health Organization (WHO)", and "COVID-19 Relief" are some examples spam campaigns incorporating Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic in some way - this, to further the developers malicious aims. These emails might also have other disguises. The mail can be used to proliferate malware (e.g. Trojans, ransomware, etc.), and can also be used for phishing, blackmail (of nonexistent personal material) and for other schemes. Whatever these emails claim, promise, request or demand, the purpose is the same: to generate revenue for the scammers/cyber criminals behind them.

How did "COVID 19 HELP DESK Email Virus" infect my computer?

Infections are caused through dangerous files sent in spam campaigns. These files can be attached to or linked inside the emails. Malicious files can be in various formats such as Microsoft Office and PDF document, archive (ZIP, RAR, etc.) and executable (.exe, .run, etc.) files, JavaScript and so on. As with the content of these messages, the filenames of infectious files can also be deceptive. When the files are executed, run or otherwise opened, the infection process starts (i.e., download/installation of malware). For example, opened Microsoft Office documents might request users to enable macro commands (i.e., to enable editing) and, if this is done, the malicious macros begin downloading/installing malware.

How to avoid installation of malware

To avoid malware infections proliferated through spam campaigns, you are advised against opening suspicious or irrelevant emails. It is especially important not to open any attachments or links present in dubious mail, as this can start the infection process. Further recommendations include using Microsoft Office versions released after 2010. The newer versions have "Protected View" mode, which prevents macro commands from being executed when a document is opened. Other popular malware distribution methods are though untrusted download sources (e.g. unofficial and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks and other third party downloaders), illegal activation ("cracking") tools and fake updaters. Therefore, use only official and verified download channels. All products should be activated and updated with tools/functions provided by legitimate developers. To protect system health and user safety, it is crucial to have a reputable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed and kept updated. Furthermore, this software is to be used to run regular system scans and to remove detected/potential threats. If you have already opened "COVID 19 HELP DESK Email Virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "COVID 19 HELP DESK" email message:

Subject: COVID 19 HELP DESK
Dear sir / Madam,

Regards to the fight against COVID 19, The World Health organisation
(WHO) in partnership with the United Nations ( UN) Have donated huge amount of money to Alliterative the COVID 19 globally.

You have been selected as a beneficiary of USD $500,000 (Five hundred thousand dollars) to provide Food relief items and Medical items including face mask, hand sanitizes and COVID 19 test kits.

The world health organisation has selected you for this to make sure that all the low income earners in your locality benefits and is protected as this Pandemic has spread all over the World.

For this funds to be made available to you, you are requested to send in the following details:

1. Personal Identification card (Scanned) 2.Full name and address.
3.Telephone Number( Mobile)
4.Payment Information.
Sign by
Head Director General :Dr Tedros Adhanom United Nations Economic and Finance Director

Detection of the malicious executable (extracted from the attached archive file) on VirusTotal:

Malicious attachment distributed through COVID 19 HELP DESK Email Virus spam campaign detection on VirusTotal

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.

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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.

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
Agent Tesla virus QR code
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