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Cyber Thieves Exploit COVID-19 Concerns

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Shmishing schemes are a growing threat.

As if you don’t already have enough to worry about, now you need to be on the lookout for phone, text and email scammers preying on coronavirus fears.

One emerging threat is a new variant of ransomware transmitted by coronavirus phishing emails.

Even more insidious: a plethora of phone and text schemes involving everything from bogus medical treatments to nonexistent federal stimulus checks.

“The Federal Trade Commission has already received more than 13,000 coronavirus-related complaints, reporting $9.6 million in total losses since January,” writes Nicole Nguyen for The Wall Street Journal. “Circulating schemes involve stimulus checks, airline refunds, charities, fines for breaking social-distancing rules, ‘mandatory’ Covid-19 preparedness tests, unproven treatments and sales of in-demand supplies like masks or thermometers. Experts say the scams are designed to get you to take immediate action, more and more through texts and calls.”

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NetWalker Ransomware
This ransomware variant was discovered in August 2019 and was initially named Mailto because of the extension that is appended to the encrypted files. It appears to be a legitimate file from Microsoft. But if you open the email and click on the link, the malware compromises your network, encrypts all Windows devices connected to it, and delivers a ransom note.

Here’s how NetWalker works, according to Omer Solomon at Cynet:

“We have noticed that NetWalker spreads itself in two ways. One way is via a VBS script that has been attached to Coronavirus phishing emails that execute the payload of the ransomware once it’s double-clicked or by opening the office documents that contain the VBS script inside. The second method occurs through an executable file that been spread on the network, and once it has been executed by the user, without the right guards in place, it is game over.”

Solomon’s piece provides a deep dive into the architecture of NetWalker, including meta-data, attack flow and encryption details.

Phone and Text Scams
In these anxious times, with people staying at home and spending more time on their phones, cyber-thieves are resorting to text messaging.

“Scammers are directing more efforts toward text-message (aka SMS) phishing, or ‘smishing,’” writes Nguyen. “The fraudulent texts often include a link to a legitimate-seeming website with fields to enter login credentials or other sensitive information. The links can also prompt malware to download.”

Here are five tips to avoid getting smished, courtesy of Nguyen:

• Think before you act. “ Instead of clicking that link, be it purportedly from a company or government agency, go directly to the source. Airlines can be reached through their apps, websites or customer-service call centers, and most government agencies, such as the IRS, currently link to coronavirus-related resources on their home pages.”

• Don’t click links or download attachments. “If you’re suspicious, you can use a scam checker to verify links or files.”

• Divert texts from unknown senders. “In iOS, go to Settings, then Messages to turn on Filter Unknown Senders, which sends texts from people who aren’t in your contacts to a separate tab,” writes Nguyen. “You can also block people by tapping on their phone number and scrolling down to Block This Caller. In Android, open the Messages app and expand Settings. Select your SIM card and scroll to tap Spam Protection to enable the feature.”

• Don’t send money or give out your personal information. The government won’t ask for personal data or charge processing fees by text.

• Keep your software up-to-date. “Those pesky pop-ups reminding you to update to the latest version of your phone or computer’s operating system are annoying—but they are critical in protecting you from security flaws, since those updates come with patches to those flaws.”

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