Cybercriminals leveraging coronavirus outbreak to execute ransomware attacks

Cybercriminals are likely to leverage the global anxiety around the coronavirus outbreak to execute ransomware attacks against businesses, according to RiskIQ.

coronavirus ransomware attacks

After extensive analysis of past ransomware attacks during global epidemics and current phishing campaigns leveraging the coronavirus, threat actors will eventually begin using ransomware against victims they infect with the AZORult and Emotet varieties of malware.

Large corporations at risk

These attacks will focus primarily on large corporations, which rely on markets and supply chains originating in China and other coronavirus-affected regions.

Personnel at these organizations have heightened interest in news and developments related to the virus, potentially making them more susceptible to social engineering that tricks them into clicking on malicious links.

Clicking on malicious links is necessary to execute the attacker’s malware, which opens the door for ransomware infection. Ransomware takes over and blocks access to computer systems until victims pay a sum of money.

“In the past, cybercriminals have found success using disasters and global epidemics in ransomware and other malware attacks and developed a pattern we expect will continue with the coronavirus,” said Aaron Inness, Protective Intelligence Analyst at RiskIQ.

“They execute layered attack campaigns, first with phishing and social engineering to infect users with malware, then taking over the entire system with ransomware or other malware.”

Two possible methods of attack

There are two possible methods of attack, both the result of phishing campaigns. The first involves the AZORult malware, which researchers witnessed was the basis for a phishing campaign targeting members of the shipping industry in January of this year.

On at least three different occasions since 2018, however, attackers have used AZORult to deploy ransomware.

The second phishing campaign relies on the Emotet Trojan. Victims in Japan have received emails claiming to contain important information about the coronavirus, but clicking on the link activates Emotet.

In September 2019, criminals partnered Emotet with TrikBot and Ryuk ransomware to take over an organization’s network, a scenario that could play out similarly over the coming weeks and months.

Secondary targets could include health organizations involved in tracking the spread, finding a cure, or providing associated public service functions. Targets of opportunity could consist of any institution or individual seeking general information about the spread and impact of the virus.

“Company executives, mid-level managers, administrators of local governments, and, of course, healthcare professionals all have a vested interest in following the latest developments around the spread of coronavirus,” Inness said. “It only takes one tired or overworked individual to click on what they believe is a legitimate alert or update.”

While neither AZORult nor Emotet have been used to deploy ransomware yet, organizations should begin preparing for ransomware attacks.

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