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Avoid getting scammed by the "Have you heard about Pegasus?" emails

Also Known As: possible malware infections
Damage level: Medium

What is "Have you heard about Pegasus? Email Scam"?

"Have you heard about Pegasus?" refers to a spam campaign - a mass-scale operation during which thousands of deceptive emails are sent. The letters distributed through this campaign make false claims about the recipients' mobile devices having been infected with malware, which was then used to obtain highly sensitive content.

The emails threaten that the nonexistent material will be leaked - unless recipients pay a ransom. While these hoax letters do not specify what sort of content the scammers supposedly have, the message heavily implies that the recordings are sexually explicit. Hence, these emails can be classified as a sextortion scam. It must be emphasized that all of the information provided by the letters is false, and no recordings of the recipients exist.

Have you heard about Pegasus? email spam campaign

"Have you heard about Pegasus?" email in detail

The "Have you heard about Pegasus?" scam emails inform recipients that their devices were infected with the Pegasus malware. Supposedly this piece of malicious software is compatible with both iPhone and Android devices. Among the listed abilities are: extraction of messages (e.g., WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram, Signal, etc.), photos, and emails; recording calls and video/audio via cameras and microphones; and so on.

The letters make false claims that the imaginary infection was used to obtain footage of the "most private moments" of the recipients' lives (with a strong implication that the recordings are explicit). The recipients are informed that they have two days to pay a ransom of 0.035 BTC (Bitcoin cryptocurrency). If they fail to make the payment, the emails make empty threats about the nonexistent content being publicized and sent to the recipients' contacts and friends.

As mentioned in the introduction, all of the claims made by the "Have you heard about Pegasus?" emails are fake. Therefore, no compromising videos featuring the recipients exist and their devices have not been infected by the scammers behind this spam campaign.

Threat Summary:
Name Have you heard about Pegasus? Email Scam
Threat Type Phishing, Scam, Social Engineering, Fraud
Fake Claim Scam emails clam that unless recipients pay a ransom - compromising videos featuring them will be publicized.
Ransom Amount 0.035 BTC (Bitcoin cryptocurrency)
Cyber Criminal Cryptowallet Address 1AXNYLDEG5YEzc2eyUh7SUYYKeRUaRwseu, 1Dz3tE5mspT4fk9fxkfZk6fBcgav28XxRd (Bitcoin)
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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Spam campaigns in general

"I am a professional programmer who specializes in hacking", "I know you are cheating on your partner", "Reminder about your dirty deeds!" - are a few examples of sextortion scam emails. However, the letters sent through these large-scale operations use a wide variety of scam models to gain and abuse users' trust.

In addition to phishing and various scams, spam emails are also used to proliferate malware (e.g., ransomware, trojans, cryptocurrency miners, etc.). Spam mail is relatively prevalent; therefore, it is highly recommended to exercise caution with incoming emails and messages.

How do spam campaigns infect computers?

Systems are infected via virulent files distributed through spam campaigns. The scam emails can have these files attached to them, and/or the letters can contain download links of such content. Infectious files can be in various formats, e.g., Microsoft Office and PDF documents, archives, executables, JavaScript, and so forth.

When the files are opened - the infection chain is triggered. For example, Microsoft Office documents cause infections by executing malicious macro commands. This process begins the moment a document is opened in Microsoft Office versions released prior to 2010. Later versions have protected view mode that prevents automatic execution of macros. Instead, users can manually enable macro commands (i.e., editing/content).

How to avoid installation of malware?

It is expressly advised against opening suspicious and irrelevant emails, especially any attachments or links present in them - as they are origins of potential system infections. It is also recommended to use Microsoft Office versions released after 2010.

Aside from spam mail, malware is also spread via dubious download channels (e.g., unofficial and freeware sites, Peer-to-Peer sharing networks, etc.), illegal activation ("cracking") tools, and fake updates. Therefore, it is crucial to use official/verified download sources and activate/update programs with tools provided by genuine developers.

To protect device and user safety, it is paramount to have a dependable anti-virus installed and kept updated. This software has to be used to run regular system scans and to remove threats. If you've already opened malicious attachments, we recommend running a scan with Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows to automatically eliminate infiltrated malware.

Text presented in the "Have you heard about Pegasus?" scam email letter:

Hello, I'm going to share important information with you.
Have you heard about Pegasus?
You have become a collateral victim. It's very important that you read the information below.

 

Your phone was penetrated with a “zero-click” attack, meaning you didn't even need to click on a malicious link for your phone to be infected.
Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices and enables operator of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails,
record calls and secretly activate cameras or microphones, and read the contents of encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram and Signal.

 

Basically, it can spy on every aspect of your life. That's precisely what it did.
I am a blackhat hacker and do this for a living. Unfortunately you are my victim. Please read on.

 

As you understand, I have used the malware capabilities to spy on you.
And by that I mean that I have collected your parts of your private life.

 

My only goal is to make money. And I have perfect leverage for this.
As you can imagine in your worst dream, I have videos of you exposed during the most private moments of your life, when you are not expecting it.

 

I personally have no interest in them, but there are public websites, that have perverts loving that content.
As I said, I only do this to make money and not trying to destroy your life. But if necessary, I will publish the videos.
If this is not enough for you, I will make sure your contacts, friends and everybody you know see those videos as well.

 

Here is the deal. I will delete the files after I receive 0.035 Bitcoin (about 1600 US Dollars).
You need to send that amount here 1AXNYLDEG5YEzc2eyUh7SUYYKeRUaRwseu

 

I will also clear your device from malware, and you keep living your life.
Otherwise, shit will happen.

 

The fee is non negotiable, to be transferred within 2 business days.

 

Obviously do not try to ask for any help from anybody unless you want your privacy to be violated.
I will monitor your every move until I get paid. If you keep your end of the agreement, you wont hear from me ever again.
Take care.

Appearance of the "Have you heard about Pegasus?" scam email (GIF):

Have you heard about Pegasus? email scam appearance (GIF)

Instant automatic malware removal: Manual threat removal might be a lengthy and complicated process that requires advanced computer skills. Combo Cleaner 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 Combo Cleaner Antivirus 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 Combo Cleaner Antivirus 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.

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