Microsoft warns of "massive" phishing campaign using Excel macros

The emails claim to be coronavirus-related, but attachments attempt to hack into PCs and take control

Microsoft has warned of a "massive" phishing campaign that uses coronavirus-themed emails to deliver attachments containing malicious Excel 4.0 macros.

These malware-laced emails, which have the subject line  “WHO COVID-19 SITUATION REPORT," claim to come from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, according to Microsoft. 

"The COVID-19 themed campaign started on May 12 and has so far used several hundreds of unique attachments,” the company's Security Intelligence team announced in a series of urgent tweets

If opened, the email’s attached Excel files will show a security warning and graph purporting to display coronavirus cases in the US. But if they’re allowed to run, the malicious Excel macros will download and run NetSupport Manager, a popular remote access tool that Microsoft’s security team says “is known for being abused by attackers to gain remote access to and run commands on compromised machines.”

The phishing attack then connects to a server that sends commands to the hacked PC.

“For several months now, we’ve been seeing a steady increase in the use of malicious Excel 4.0 macros in malware campaigns,” Microsoft warned. “In April, these Excel 4.0 campaigns jumped on the bandwagon and started using COVID-19 themed lures.” 

This is the second time in two months that Microsoft has sounded an alarm about cybercriminals taking advantage of the ongoing coronavirus crisis to trick users into downloading malware onto their devices. 

In April, Microsoft’s Security Intelligence team publicly warned of “prolific” hackers using Trickbot malware. Posing as the “USA Volunteer Organization” and the “USA Humanitarian Group,” hackers sent out hundreds of emails purporting to offer free coronavirus medical advice. Instead, those emails aimed to install malware via attachments.

To avoid raising red flags, phishers aren’t putting malicious URLs in emails, Microsoft recently warned on Twitter. “Instead, they leverage legitimate web services or use attachments that contain the link to the phishing site,” the company said.

There are multiple ways to launch a phishing attack, but email has become the platform of choice. It’s incredibly cheap to send messages to thousands of recipients, and at such a scale the scam only needs to fool a handful of victims to be lucrative.

You can avoid falling victim to these attempts by following our 10 quick tips for identifying phishing emails.

Featured Resources

Navigating the new normal: A fast guide to remote working

A smooth transition will support operations for years to come

Download now

Leading the data race

The trends driving the future of data science

Download now

How to create 1:1 customer experiences at scale

Meet the technology capable of delivering the personalisation your customers crave

Download now

How to achieve daily SAP releases

Accelerate the pace of SAP change to support your digital strategy

Download now

Recommended

Need Excel training? Try these 10 cheap or free options
Microsoft Windows

Need Excel training? Try these 10 cheap or free options

17 Aug 2020
The Ritz suffers data breach after hackers pose as staff
data breaches

The Ritz suffers data breach after hackers pose as staff

17 Aug 2020
Russia hacked Liam Fox's personal email to steal trade documents
phishing

Russia hacked Liam Fox's personal email to steal trade documents

4 Aug 2020
British teenager charged over Twitter hack
hacking

British teenager charged over Twitter hack

3 Aug 2020

Most Popular

Windows XP source code allegedly leaked online
Microsoft Windows

Windows XP source code allegedly leaked online

25 Sep 2020
16 ways to speed up your laptop
Laptops

16 ways to speed up your laptop

16 Sep 2020
16 ways to speed up your laptop
Laptops

16 ways to speed up your laptop

16 Sep 2020