Stay safe in face of COVID-19 excel phishing attacks
The COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunately seeing more and more scammers coming out of the woodwork, say Chris Bentley, senior security engineer, and Paul Cahill, data breach solicitor, both at Fletchers Data Claims.
This has been widely reported, including in the UK following the rollout of the new National Health Service (NHS) Test & Trace service. But the most recent scam exploiting our heightened vulnerability surrounding COVID-19 is a phishing attack reported by Microsoft.
The software giant is reporting a large-scale email campaign that uses an Excel attachment as bait. The email is disguised as a communication from the Coronavirus Research Center of John Hopkins University, a well-known medical organisation in the US. The email includes an Excel attachment that claims to be an updated list of Coronavirus-related deaths, but the file actually contains a hidden piece of malware.
When the user opens the infected Excel file and clicks ‘Enable Content’, a program called NetSupport Manager will be automatically installed on to the user’s computer, and then allows hackers to access the computer remotely.
Chris Bentley comments: “Cybercriminals are preying on people’s heightened vulnerability during these difficult times, and using this to hijack personal and financial data. The phishing campaign reported by Microsoft uses NetSupport Manager to gain complete control over a victim’s computer system; allowing scammers to steal sensitive data, install more malicious software, and even use the machine for criminal activities.”
Here he lists some ways to protect yourself from this scam:
- Think before you click. Scammers know that you want to stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 data so they use this as bait. They’re trying to trick you into impulsively clicking and downloading their malware.
- Never download an attachment from an email that you weren’t expecting. Remember, even if the sender appears to be a legitimate organisation, the email address could be spoofed.
- Always go to the source. Any time you receive an email that claims to have updated COVID-19 data, use your browser to visit the official website instead of opening an attachment or clicking a link.”
Paul Cahill adds, “Being aware of the risks means that you are less likely to impacted by this particular scam. Cyber awareness and data security go hand in hand, so it is important that you know how to spot a phishing email and how to respond when you are faced with one.
“Never click on a link when you do not trust the source. Never open an attachment when the language used within an email doesn’t seem natural. Also watch out for emails that do not use your name in the greeting – ‘Hello friend’ for example. This is an indicator of spam, and could also signify phishing. Being extra vigilant when it comes to your online communications is critically important at all times, but particularly whilst scammers are using a national crisis to hone in on the vulnerable.”