The Emotet botnet took a Christmas holiday but its now up and running again and the massive phishing and spamming campaigns have resumed. These campaigns, which involve millions of spam emails, use a variety of lures to trick people into opening an attachment and enabling content. The content in question includes a macro which runs a PowerShell command that downloads and executes the Emotet Trojan.

The Emotet Trojan is bad news. Emotet was once just a banking Trojan whose purpose was to steal online banking credentials. It still does that and much more besides. Emotet also steals credentials from installed applications and browsers. It is also self-propagating and will send copies of itself via email to the victim’s contacts. As if that was not bad enough, Emotet has another trick up its sleeve. It is also a downloader of other malware variants such as the TrickBot Trojan and Ryuk ransomware. These additional payloads allow data to be stolen and sold for profit and for files across the network to be encrypted and ransom demands issued. Emotet has also delivered cryptocurrency miners in the past and could deliver any number of other malware payloads.

The scale of the botnet is staggering. In the first quarter of 2019, Emotet was responsible for 6 out of 10 malicious payloads delivered via email. There are often breaks in activity, but even though the threat actors behind the botnet took almost half of 2019 off, Emotet still ranks as the top malware threat of the year.

Emotet sprung back to life on January 13, 2020 with targeted attacks on the pharmaceutical industry in North America, but it didn’t take long for the attacks to spread even further afield. Now more than 80 countries are being attacked and in addition to English, campaigns have been detected in Italian, Polish, German, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.

The lures used to fool end users into opening email attachments are highly varied and often change. Tried and tested lures such as fake invoices, orders, statements, agreements, payment remittance notices, receipts, and delivery notifications are often used in attacks on businesses, which are the primary targets. Before the botnet shut down for a break in December, Greta Thunberg-themed emails were being used along with Christmas party invitations. A host no new lures can be expected in 2020.

The themes of the emails may change but the messages have one thing in common. They require an end user to take action. That is usually opening a document, spreadsheet or other file, but could be a click on a hyperlink in an email. Once that action is taken, Emotet will be silently downloaded.

There are two main ways of blocking attacks and both are necessary. The first is to ensure that the email system is secure, which means implementing an effective spam filter. Businesses that use Office 365 will have a modicum of protection through Exchange Online Protection (EOP), which is included with Office 365 subscriptions. However, businesses should not rely on EOP alone. Layered defenses are required.

SpamTitan is a powerful spam filter that will improve protection against malware threats such as Emotet. SpamTitan can be layered on top of Office 365 to provide greater protection and prevent the malware from being delivered to inboxes. Dual anti-virus engines are incorporated into the solution to detect known threats and SpamTitan includes a sandbox for identifying threats that signature-based detection mechanisms miss.

Many businesses deploy a variety of security solutions but fail to prepare their employees for an attack. If malicious emails make it past security solutions and are delivered to inboxes, all it takes is for one employee to fail to spot the threat and respond for Emotet to be installed (and potentially ransomware as well). It is therefore important to provide regular security awareness training to everyone in the company from the CEO down. If employees are not told how to identify malicious emails, they cannot be expected to spot threats and report the messages to the security team.

Fortunately, through a combination of email security solutions and security awareness training, the threat from Emotet can be neutralized. For more information on the former, give TitanHQ a call today.