Avoid the ProtonMail phishing email scam

Also Known As: possible malware infections
Distribution: Moderate
Damage level: Medium

"ProtonMail email scam" removal guide

What is "ProtonMail email scam"?

"ProtonMail email scam" refers to a spam campaign designed to hijack users' ProtonMail mail accounts. These messages claim that the recipient's email account has been suspended due to unspecified and unresolved errors, hence they risk losing access and suffering data deletion. The scam urges people to address the issues immediately, however, the link presented in the email leads to a phishing website. Attempting to log-in through this site will reveal usernames and passwords to the scammers, thereby allowing them to gain access to the exposed ProtonMail accounts.

ProtonMail email spam campaign

The email named "ProtonMail Account Location Is Not Secured" informs recipients that their ProtonMail accounts have been disabled from sending/receiving emails, due to failure on their part to resolve miscellaneous errors. Therefore, if they are not addressed immediately, users supposedly risk having access to their accounts denied. Additionally, the inbox will be wiped and all received and sent messages, drafts and spam messages will be deleted. To avoid having the account disconnected from the ProtonMail database, the email informs recipients to follow the instructions provided. The message does not contain any steps to fix the supposed problems, however, instructions can apparently be accessed via the "Resolve Now" button presented in the email. When pressed, users are redirected to a fake ProtonMail login web page. Despite its similarity to the legitimate website, this is a phishing site. Any attempts to access ProtonMail through this fraudulent web page are unsuccessful, since its only purpose is to deliver entered account credentials (i.e., usernames and passwords) to the scammers. Note that risks posed by trusting this phishing scam are not limited to loss of email accounts. Email accounts are commonly connected with social networking, social media, e-commerce (web store), financial and various other accounts. Therefore, through stolen emails, hijackers can gain access and control over associated accounts. To summarize, the information provided by these scam ProtonMail messages is false and in no way connected to the legitimate email service provider. Trusting this scheme can result in financial loss, serious privacy issues and identity theft. If you have already attempted logging-in through the phishing website, you are strongly advised to immediately change the compromised ProtonMail account password and similarly secure accounts tied to it. Further recommendations include contacting the support of any potentially affected accounts.

Threat Summary:
Name ProtonMail Email Scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud.
Fake Claim Scam claims tha recipients' ProtonMail email accounts have unresolved errors.
Related Domain suyakshametalart[.]com
Serving IP Address 103.21.58.112
Disguise Scam is presented as mail from ProtonMail support.
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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The term "spam campaign" is used to define a large scale operation, during which thousands of scam emails are sent. These messages are usually presented as "official", "priority", "important" and similar. They might be disguised as mail from legitimate organizations, institutions, companies, service providers and so on. "Roundcube Email Scam", "Last Warning: Upgrade your email to avoid Shutting Down", and "Email Credentials Phishing" are some examples of phishing messages akin to the "ProtonMail email scam". Another popular model is sextortion, by which scammers claim to have obtained compromising material of the recipient and threaten publication, unless a certain sum is paid. For example, "I KNOW YOU OPENED MY LAST MAIL", "I infected your computer with my private trojan", etc. Due to increased Coronavirus/COVID-19 concerns, hundreds of spam campaigns exploiting the pandemic have been been launched. "COVID-19 pandemic is straining health systems worldwide", "COVID-19 Cases Surpassed 300,000", and "Infect Your Family With CoronaVirus" are just some examples. Scam models used in spam campaigns are varied. "AOL Winner", "eBay Email Scam", "Critical Microsoft Windows Update!", and "TOYOTA LOTTERY ORGANIZATION" are some more examples of such rogue mail. Regardless of the claims, request and demands these message make, the purpose is the same: to generate profit for the scammers/cyber criminals behind them.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Systems can be infected with malware through dangerous files attached to, or linked inside, dubious mail (e.g. download links/malicious websites). Infectious files can be in various formats such as Microsoft Office and PDF documents, executable (.exe, .run) and archive (RAR, ZIP) files, JavaScript, etc. When these files are executed, run or otherwise opened, the infection process starts (i.e., download/installation of malicious programs). For example, once opened, Microsoft Office documents ask users to enable macro commands (i.e., to enable editing/content) - only if they are enabled does the infection processes begin. In Microsoft Office versions released prior to 2010, however, macro commands are executed immediately when a document is opened (and so is download/installation of malware).

How to avoid installation of malware

Do not open suspicious or irrelevant emails, especially those with any attachments or links present within them, as this can result in a system infection. Additionally, use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010. These have "Protected View" mode, which prevents malicious macros from being executed when an infectious document is opened. Other common malware proliferation methods are via untrusted download channels (unofficial and free file-hosting sites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks and other third party downloaders), illegal activation tools ("cracks") and fake updaters. Therefore, use only official and verified download sources. Furthermore, all products should be activated and updated with functions/tools provided by legitimate developers. To ensure device and user safety, it is paramount to have a reputable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed. This software must be kept up to date, used to run regular system scans and to remove all detected/potential threats. If you have already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "ProtonMail email scam" email message:

Title/Subject: Protonmail Account Location Is Not Secured


Dear Protonmail user,

 

Your account ***@protonmail.com will be disconnected from sending and receiving mails from other users. Because you failed to resolve errors on your mail.

 

Note: All mails in your inbox, spam, draft, and sent items would be deleted, and access to your account would be denied.

 

You need to resolve the errors or your account will e disconnected from our database,
Follow the instruction below to resolve now

 

We are always looking to improve your online experience and security.

 

Thank you!

 

This message was sent from an unmonitored e-mail address. Please do not reply to this message.
Privacy Legal
ProtonMail@2020

Screenshot of the fake ProtonMail log-in website used for phishing account credentials:

ProtonMail email scam phishing website

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.

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