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

Also Known As: Have You Heard About Pegasus? spam
Damage level: Medium

What kind of email is "Have you heard about Pegasus"?

"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)

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Quick menu:

Types of malicious emails:

Phishing email icon Phishing Emails

Most commonly, cybercriminals use deceptive emails to trick Internet users into giving away their sensitive private information, for example, login information for various online services, email accounts, or online banking information.

Such attacks are called phishing. In a phishing attack, cybercriminals usually send an email message with some popular service logo (for example, Microsoft, DHL, Amazon, Netflix), create urgency (wrong shipping address, expired password, etc.), and place a link which they hope their potential victims will click on.

After clicking the link presented in such email message, victims are redirected to a fake website that looks identical or extremely similar to the original one. Victims are then asked to enter their password, credit card details, or some other information that gets stolen by cybercriminals.

Email-virus icon Emails with Malicious Attachments

Another popular attack vector is email spam with malicious attachments that infect users' computers with malware. Malicious attachments usually carry trojans that are capable of stealing passwords, banking information, and other sensitive information.

In such attacks, cybercriminals' main goal is to trick their potential victims into opening an infected email attachment. To achieve this goal, email messages usually talk about recently received invoices, faxes, or voice messages.

If a potential victim falls for the lure and opens the attachment, their computers get infected, and cybercriminals can collect a lot of sensitive information.

While it's a more complicated method to steal personal information (spam filters and antivirus programs usually detect such attempts), if successful, cybercriminals can get a much wider array of data and can collect information for a long period of time.

Sextortion email icon Sextortion Emails

This is a type of phishing. In this case, users receive an email claiming that a cybercriminal could access the webcam of the potential victim and has a video recording of one's masturbation.

To get rid of the video, victims are asked to pay a ransom (usually using Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency). Nevertheless, all of these claims are false - users who receive such emails should ignore and delete them.

How to spot a malicious email?

While cyber criminals try to make their lure emails look trustworthy, here are some things that you should look for when trying to spot a phishing email:

  • Check the sender's ("from") email address: Hover your mouse over the "from" address and check if it's legitimate. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft, be sure to check if the email address is @microsoft.com and not something suspicious like @m1crosoft.com, @microsfot.com, @account-security-noreply.com, etc.
  • Check for generic greetings: If the greeting in the email is "Dear user", "Dear @youremail.com", "Dear valued customer", this should raise suspiciousness. Most commonly, companies call you by your name. Lack of this information could signal a phishing attempt.
  • Check the links in the email: Hover your mouse over the link presented in the email, if the link that appears seems suspicious, don't click it. For example, if you received an email from Microsoft and the link in the email shows that it will go to firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0... you shouldn't trust it. It's best not to click any links in the emails but to visit the company website that sent you the email in the first place.
  • Don't blindly trust email attachments: Most commonly, legitimate companies will ask you to log in to their website and to view any documents there; if you received an email with an attachment, it's a good idea to scan it with an antivirus application. Infected email attachments are a common attack vector used by cybercriminals.

To minimise the risk of opening phishing and malicious emails we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows

Example of a spam email:

Example of an email spam

What to do if you fell for an email scam?

  • If you clicked on a link in a phishing email and entered your password - be sure to change your password as soon as possible. Usually, cybercriminals collect stolen credentials and then sell them to other groups that use them for malicious purposes. If you change your password in a timely manner, there's a chance that criminals won't have enough time to do any damage.
  • If you entered your credit card information - contact your bank as soon as possible and explain the situation. There's a good chance that you will need to cancel your compromised credit card and get a new one.
  • If you see any signs of identity theft - you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission. This institution will collect information about your situation and create a personal recovery plan.
  • If you opened a malicious attachment - your computer is probably infected, you should scan it with a reputable antivirus application. For this purpose, we recommend using Combo Cleaner Antivirus for Windows.
  • Help other Internet users - report phishing emails to Anti-Phishing Working Group, FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, National Fraud Information Center and U.S. Department of Justice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why did I receive this email?

Spam emails are not personal. This mail is spread in massive operations – hence, thousands of users receive identical emails.

Was my computer actually hacked and does the sender have any information?

No, all the claims made by the "Have you heard about Pegasus?" email are fake. Hence, no device was infected nor does the sender have any sensitive or compromising content in their possession.

How did cyber criminals get my email password?

The most likely reason is that you have previously become a victim of a phishing scam that targets log-in credentials. It is possible that this information was acquired through a data breach on your end. The least likely scenario is a breach on a service provider's end.

I have sent cryptocurrency to the address presented in this email, can I get my money back?

No, cryptocurrency transactions are nearly untraceable – hence, they are virtually irreversible.

I have provided my personal information when tricked by a spam email, what should I do?

If you have provided your log-in credentials – immediately change the passwords of all possibly exposed accounts and inform their official support. However, if you've disclosed other private data (e.g., ID card details, passport photos/scans, credit card numbers, etc.) – contact the appropriate authorities without delay.

I have read a spam email but didn't open the attachment, is my computer infected?

No, reading an email is harmless. Systems are infected when malicious attachments or links are opened.

I have downloaded and opened a file attached to a spam email, is my computer infected?

If the file was an executable (.exe, .run, etc.) – most likely, yes. However, you might have avoided an infection if it was a document (.doc, .xls, .pdf, .one, etc.). These formats may require extra actions to jumpstart malware download/installation processes (e.g., enabling macro commands, clicking embedded content, etc.).

Will Combo Cleaner remove malware infections present in email attachments?

Yes, Combo Cleaner is capable of detecting and eliminating practically all known malware infections. It must be mentioned that since high-end malicious software typically hides deep within systems – running a full system scan is paramount.

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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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