Avoid malware infections from emails offering free COVID-19 tests

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

"COVID-19 test" email virus removal guide

What is the "COVID-19 test" email?

"COVID-19 test" is yet another Coronavirus/COVID-19 themed email spam campaign. There are several variants of these deceptive emails, however the common thread is that they all offer free Coronavirus testing to the recipients. The letters claim that the files attached to them are forms/applications, instead the Excel spreadsheets initiate the infection chain (i.e. download/installation) of the TrickBot trojan. The primarily purpose of this malware is to steal data, such as banking information, cryptowallets and other private data.

Variant of the COVID-19 test malware-spreading email spam campaign

As mentioned in the introduction, there are multiple versions of the "COVID-19 test" emails. They are thematically identical and while the text differs - some of the sentences are copied and/or reused with slight modification. The researched variants were titled "Are you scared of covid-19? Take action today?", "Are you really scared of coronavirus (covid-19)? Make something now." and "Are you afraid of covid-19? Act immediately?" - respectively. The emails begin by stating that as the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading the sender's ("U.S Humanitarian Team") medical team is offering free Coronavirus tests. The letters reassure that this is a genuine research/investigation effort and not a scam. To obtain the free tests at the nearest healthcare facility, recipients are instructed to fill-out the attached request application and and send it back to the same email address. Furthermore, the attachment supposedly contains medical specialist approved recommendations and other safety tips. It must be emphasized that all the information provided in the "COVID-19 test" emails is false and merely bait to trick recipients into opening the infectious document attached to them. Once opened, the Excel spreadsheet, titled "CoVid19_Form_v0101 [Group].xls", sates that the data within the document is locked and will stay so until the "Enable" button is clicked. Should these instructions be followed, the TrickBot malware infection process will begin. Presence of this trojan on systems can lead to a variety of severe problems, like - financial losses, serious privacy issues and identity theft. Therefore, it is expressly advised against trusting the "COVID-19 test" scam emails. If it is known or suspected that TrickBot has already infected the system, an anti-virus must be used to eliminate it immediately.

Threat Summary:
Name TrickBot virus
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax Emails offer free Coronavirus/COVID-19 testing
Attachment(s) CoVid19_Form_v0101 [Group].xls
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 TrickBot
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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"Australian Government Department of Health", "COVID-19 Relief", "COVID-19 Insurance Plan From CIGNA", "COVID-19 Part Time Employment" are a few examples of other Coronavirus/COVID-19 themed scam emails. These letters are distributed by the thousand, during large scale operations termed "spam campaigns". This mail can wear a wide range of disguises; it is usually presented as "official", "urgent", "important" and similar. However, malware proliferation is not the only purpose of spam campaigns. Phishing emails are a likewise common occurrence. Regardless of what these scams claim, request or demand, the end-goal is the same - to generate revenue for their designers.

How did "COVID-19 test Email Virus" infect my computer?

Infections are caused through virulent files sent distributed through spam campaigns. The malicious content can be attached to the emails or alternatively, the letters can contain downloads links of such software. Infectious files can be in various formats, e.g. archives (ZIP, RAR), executables (.exe, .run), Microsoft Office and PDF documents, JavaScript, etc. When these files are executed, run or otherwise opened - it triggers the infection process. For example, MS Office documents infect systems by executing malicious macro commands. In Microsoft Office versions released before 2010 this process is automatically jumpstarted when a file is opened. However, in the newer versions users are asked to enable macros (i.e. to enable editing/content). Therefore, malware download/installation begins only after the macro commands are manually enabled.

How to avoid installation of malware?

It is strongly advised not to open dubious and/or irrelevant emails, especially ones received from suspect/unknown senders (addresses). Additionally, it is recommended to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010, since they have "Protected View" mode that prevents malicious macros from initiating any infection processes - the moment a virulent document is opened. However, malware is also distributed via untrustworthy download sources (e.g. unofficial and free file-hosting websites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks and other third party downloaders), illegal activation tools ("cracks") and fake updates. Hence, it is important to use only official/verified download channels, activate and update programs with tools/functions provided by legitimate developers. To ensure device and user safety, it is crucial to have a dependable anti-virus/anti-spyware suite installed. Furthermore, this software must be kept up-to-date, used to run regular system scans and to remove threats/issues. If you've already opened "COVID-19 test Email Virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "COVID-19 test" email letter:

Subject: Are you scared of covid-19? Take action today?

 

Hi,

 

Given that the coronavirus(covid-19) pandemic spreads, our medical crew is here for helping people exactly like you to obtain Coronavirus covid-19 text without spending a dime. This is a period for self-assurance, not stress. Research, not trick.
Check and fill out the form enclosed and provide us with a reply to this email to obtain your personal coronavirus check today at your nearby medical center.

 

You will additionally discover all instructions to stay safe in the outbreak. Follow these simply yet practical actions recommended by medical regulators.

 

Most sincerely, **************
USA Humanitarian Squad,
*************
US 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

Screenshot of another "COVID-19 test" email variant:

COVID-19 test email second variant

Text presented in this letter:

Subject: Are you really scared of coronavirus (covid-19)? Make something now.

 

Good day,

 

Given that the coronavirus(covid-19) disease grows, our medical team is here to guide citizens just like you to obtain Covid-19 check for free. This is certainly a period of time for confidence, not emotional stress. Research, not trick.
Find and complete the application request enclosed and give us a reply to this letter to obtain your personal covid-19 check now at your local healthcare facility.

 

You will additionally discover all methods to remain safe during the pandemic. Please follow these simply but useful tips suggested by medical specialists.

 

Regards, *****************
U.S Humanitarian Team,
*************
United States 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

Screenshot of yet another "COVID-19 test" email variant:

COVID-19 test email third variant

Text presented in this letter:

Subject: Are you afraid of covid-19? Act immediately?

 

Hello there,

 

Given that the coronavirus disease spreads, our team comes for giving people exactly like you to obtain Coronavirus Covid-19 check at absolutely no cost. This really is time for self-assurance, not pressure. Investigation, not trick.
Discover and complete the application request linked and provide us with a reply to this email to obtain your own personal coronavirus covid-19 test today at your closest clinic.

 

You will furthermore find all recommendations to stay safe while in the outbreak. Follow all these easy yet useful tips recommended by medical regulators.

 

Sincerely, ******************
USA Humanitarian Team
US 501(c)(9) non-profit organization

Malicious attachment distributed via "COVID-19 test" spam campaign ("CoVid19_Form_v0101 [Group].xls"):

Malicious attachment distributed through COVID-19 test spam campaign (CoVid19_Form_v0101 [Group].xls)

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
TrickBot virus 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 TrickBot virus on your mobile device.
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