How to avoid installation of Agent Tesla via SARS eFiling scam?

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

"SARS eFiling Email Virus" removal guide

What is "SARS eFiling Email Virus"?

Like most malspam campaigns, this one is sent by cyber criminals who attempt to trick recipients into installing malware. In this particular case the email is disguised as a letter from South African Revenue Service (SARS), the main purpose of cyber criminals behind it is to deceive recipients into opening the malicious attachment which contains a malicious executable designed to install Agent Tesla Remote Access Trojan (RAT). Therefore, it is strongly recommend to leave the attached file unopened and ignore this email.

SARS eFiling Email Virus malware-spreading email spam campaign

Recipients are encouraged to open SARS eFiling system and review some document through the attached "sar efilling.z" archive file which contains "sar file2020.exe" executable file (their names may vary). As mentioned in the introduction, the file attached to this email is malicious. The executable file in it is designed to install the aforementioned Agent Tesla RAT. In most cases RATs give cyber criminals behind them administrative control over infected computers. It means that they may use such software to download and execute files (install additional malware like ransomware, some other Trojans) access and manage files stored on a computer (including sensitive photos, documents), access microphone, webcam, take screenshots, and perform other actions. The main Agent Tesla feature is keystroke logging. It means that this malicious software can be used to steal logins, passwords, credit care details and other sensitive information by recording pressed keys (keyboard input). Stolen information could be sold to other cyber criminals, misused to hijack personal accounts, steal identities, make fraudulent purchases, transactions, and so on. It is worthwhile to mention that stolen accounts could be used to spread the Agent Tesla RAT further, or deceive other users into some other malware. All of the possible problems can be avoided by not opening the file attached to this or any other similar email. Also, it is worthwhile to mention that cyber criminals behind such emails exploit names of well known companies, organizations or individuals to make their emails look legitimate. In this case they even included the official SARS eFiling langing page address. Although, none of those companies, organizations, etc., have anything to do with such malspam. The same applies to SARS eFiling - it is the official online tax returns submission portal for the South African Revenue Service.

Threat Summary:
Name Agent Tesla RAT
Threat Type Trojan, password-stealing virus, banking malware, spyware.
Hoax This email is disguised as a letter which supposed to open SARS eFiling landing page
Attachment(s) sar efilling.z (its name may vary)
Detection Names BitDefender (Gen:Variant.Strictor.245539), ESET-NOD32 (A Variant Of Win32/Injector.EMBN), Kaspersky (UDS:DangerousObject.Multi.Generic), Microsoft (VirTool:Win32/CeeInject.JJ!bit), 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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There is a great number of spam campaigns that were or still are used to distribute malicious software. A couple of examples are "Cuerpo Nacional de Policía", "Institut za zdravstvo Srbije" and "Spring Company Invoice". As a rule, they contain some malicious link or attachment. When recipients execute a malicious file, they infect their computers with one or another malware (e.g. ransomware, Trojan).

How did "SARS eFiling Email Virus" infect my computer?

Computer get infected through this spam campaign when recipients open (launch/execute) the malicious "sar file2020.exe" file that is extracted from "sar efilling.z" archive file. It means that Agent Tesla cannot be installed without execution of the aforementioned malicious executable. Some examples of other files that cyber criminals attach to their emails with a purpose to distribute malware are malicious Microsoft Office documents, JavaScript files, PDF documents, other executable or archive files (like ZIP, RAR). Although, malicious MS Office documents infect systems only when users give them a permission to enable content/editing (macros commands). However, if such document is opened with MS Office versions that were released before year 2010, then it infects a computer automatically. It is because the aforementioned versions do not include the "Protected View" mode.

How to avoid installation of malware?

It recommended not to open files that are attached to irrelevant emails, especially if such emails are sent from some unknown, suspicious address. The same applies to website links in them. Cyber criminals often disguise their emails as important, official, or legitimate in some other way. Website links and files in received emails should be opened only when there is no reason to suspect that opening them would cause installation of malware or some other issues. Software should be downloaded only from official, trustworthy websites and via direct links. Third party downloaders, installers, Peer-to-Peer networks, unofficial pages and other channels of this kind should not be trusted. If some installed program is not free and it requires activation, then it should be activated properly. Unofficial activation ('cracking') tools often are designed to cause installation of various malware. Besides, it is not legal to such tools to bypass activation of licensed software. The same applies to software updates - third party updaters can be used to install malware too. Therefore, installed software must be updated and/or activated only with implemented functions and/or tools that are designed by official software developers. Additionally, computers should be regularly scanned for threats with a reputable antivirus or anti-spyware software, such software should always be up to date. If you've already opened "SARS eFiling Email Virus" attachment, we recommend running a scan with Malwarebytes for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "SARS eFiling Email Virus" email letter:

Subject: SARS eFiling Letter Notification


Dear Sir./Madam


An EMP Statement of Account for the tax payer listed below has been issued by SARS.


Please open the SARS eFiling system attached, to view it.


If you have any queries please contact our helpdesk on 0800 00 SARS (7277).


Best Regards


The SARS eFiling Team


SARS eFiling
Welcome to the new SARS eFiling Landing Page. SARS eFiling is a free, online process for the submission of returns and declarations and other related services.

Malicious file distributed via SARS eFiling malspam campaign detected as a threat by multiple engines:

sars efiling email virus distributed malicious file detected as a threat in 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 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 since 2010. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay informed about the latest online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

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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 RAT QR code
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