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Criminals use coronavirus fears to launch theft malware

31st January 2020
Joe Bush

The presence of the coronavirus has been diagnosed in the UK for the first time as the UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, confirmed that two people from the same family had tested positive for the virus. It is understood the patients were staying in a hotel in Yorkshire, before being taken overnight to a specialist centre in Newcastle.

However, while concerns of the spread of coronavirus grow, criminals are taking advantage of the situation, says GlobalData technical editor Lucy Ingham.

Ingham commented: “Perhaps a more sinister threat than coronavirus itself is a malware that is already being spread in other parts of the world, by heartless criminals using fear surrounding the disease.

“In Japan, where the first case was confirmed on 15th January, emails have begun circulating that appear to be warnings about the coronavirus outbreak from an official government body.

“The emails themselves have a word document as an attachment, with an urgent-sounding name that encourages the recipient to open it. However, when they do, they see a message that looks like it is from Office 365 encouraging the user to change their settings so the document is not in protected view.

“Doing this does not provide any new information about coronavirus or anything else, but it does launch an extremely malicious malware known as Emotet, which is designed to steal financial data, banking logins and other valuable personal information.

“Emotet has been around for some while, and it is becoming increasingly common for attackers to use current news events to lure victims into allowing it to install.”

Mollie MacDougall, threat intelligence manager at Cofense, said: “After a brief recess around Christmas and New Year, Emotet is very much back as the behemoth of email malware.”

At least 213 people in China have died from the virus, with almost 10,000 cases in the country. There has been a further 98 reported cases in a further 18 countries around the world. The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has now surpassed that of the Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003.

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