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How to avoid installation of Pony via the HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update email

Also Known As: Pony Trojan
Type: Trojan
Distribution: Low
Damage level: Severe

"HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update" removal guide

What is "HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update"?

Many spam campaigns infect computers with high-risk malware. Cyber criminals send emails that contain malicious attachments, or website links designed to download malicious files, and they hope that recipients open/execute them. Generally, the emails are disguised as important, official messages from legitimate companies. This particular email is disguised as a message from HSBC Bank. It contains an attachment, which installs malicious software called Pony.

HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update malware-spreading email spam campaign

This email contains a message purporting to be sent by a person working in HSBC Bank's customer service. It states that HSBC Bank is providing some vital services to its loyal customers due to the coronavirus pandemic. For more details (such as "plans for 2020"), recipients are encouraged to check the attached file, a document named "RFQ.doc". This document contains a number of pages filled with random characters. As mentioned, a file attached to this spam campaign installs Pony, however, in order for this malware to infect a computer, a malicious document must be allowed to enable macro commands. Pony is malware that steals personal, sensitive data. I.e., information such as credentials (logins, passwords) saved on internet browsers, FTP, VPN, clients and other applications. Therefore, cyber criminals behind Pony might access various accounts, which could be used to steal identities, spread spam, make fraudulent purchases and transactions, trick other users into transferring money, and so on. Victims of Pony attacks might suffer monetary loss, serious online privacy issues, have their identities stolen, etc. Therefore, you are strongly advised not to open the file attached to this spam campaign and, more importantly, not to enable editing within it.

Threat Summary:
Name Pony Trojan
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax This email is disguised as a message regarding services provided to loyal HSBC Bank customers.
Attachment(s) RFQ.doc
Detection Names Antiy-AVL (Trojan[Exploit]/RTF.Obscure.Gen), DrWeb (Exploit.Rtf.CVE2012-0158), Ikarus (Exploit.Office.Doc), Kaspersky (HEUR:Exploit.MSOffice.Generic), 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 Pony
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.
▼ Download Malwarebytes
To use full-featured product, you have to purchase a license for Malwarebytes. 14 days free trial available.

"COVID-19 Part Time Employment Email Virus", "DHL Relief Email Virus" and "COVID-19 Stimulus Email Virus" are some examples of other spam campaigns that cyber criminals spread in order to deceive recipients into opening a file designed to install malware. Other examples of malware that is distributed in this way include LokiBot, FormBook, ZLoader and GuLoader.

How did "HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update" infect my computer?

Pony can be installed on the recipient's computer only if the attachment in this email is opened and given permission to enable editing. Therefore, computers are safe from Pony infection as long as the attached document (in this case, "RFQ.doc") remains unopened, or it is opened with Protected View mode enabled. Note that MS Office versions developed before 2010 do not include Protected View. Therefore, malicious documents opened with these versions infect computers without asking any permissions. More examples of files that cyber criminals attach to their emails are executable files (.exe), archive files such as RAR, ZIP, PDF documents and JavaScript files. They also send emails that contain website links designed to download malicious files.

How to avoid installation of malware

Files and programs should not be downloaded from unofficial websites, through Peer-to-Peer networks (torrent clients, eMule), third party downloaders, freeware download sites or other channels of this kind. The only safe way is using official web pages and direct download links. Irrelevant emails that are sent from unknown, suspicious addresses and contain attachments or web links should not be trusted. You are advised to open email contents only when you are sure that it is safe to do so. Software must be updated through implemented functions or with tools designed by official developers. Third party tools can lead to installation of malware. The same applies to activation of licensed programs. Furthermore, it is illegal to use unofficial, third party tools to activate any licensed software. Finally, regularly scan your computer with reputable, up-to-date antivirus or anti-spyware software. If you have already opened "HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update" email message:

Subject: HSBC BANK COVID-19 UPDATE. (KINDLY STUDY CAREFULLY)

Dear Sir & Madam,
 Please kindly take note that in view of the current pandemic situation (COVID 19) which is globally affecting
various nations, The HSBC Bank team have profoundly put all resources together to provide key vital services to our
utmost loyal customers and intending customers. Kindly find atttached and carefully study our intended rolled out
plans for the year 2020 and ahead.
Best Regards.

Customer Service Representative
HSBC Bank plc
8 Canada Square
London
E14 5HQ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44(0) 20 7991 8888
www.hsbc.co.uk
**********
This is an auto-generated email, please DO NOT REPLY. Any replies to this
email will be disregarded.
**********
_____
_____
**********
This e-mail is confidential. It may also be legally privileged.
If you are not the addressee you may not copy, forward, disclose
or use any part of it. If you have received this message in error,
kindly disregard and all copies from your system.
Internet communications cannot be guaranteed to be timely,
secure, error or virus-free. The sender does not accept liability
for any errors or omissions.
**********
"SAVE PAPER - THINK BEFORE YOU PRINT!"

Malicious attachment distributed via "HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update" spam campaign (GIF):

Malicious attachment distributed through HSBC Bank Covid-19 Update 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.

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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
Pony Trojan 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 Pony Trojan on your mobile device.
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