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SilverTerrier: New COVID-19 themed business email compromise schemes

According to the recently released annual report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) observed a record 23,775 Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks in 2019. Significantly greater than all other categories of cybercrime over the same period, these attacks resulted in an estimated US$1.77 billion in global losses.

With the global impacts of COVID-19, an unprecedented number of corporations are expediating their cloud infrastructure migrations, all while transitioning to a largely remote workforce that is understandably interested in all topics related to the virus. Given this trend, it should come as no surprise that BEC actors are seizing opportunities to exploit the situation through tailored phishing campaigns related to COVID-19.

Focusing on one of the most active subsets of the global threat landscape, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 tracks Nigerian cyber criminals involved in BEC activities under the name SilverTerrier. Over the past 90 days (Jan. 30 - April 30), we have observed three SilverTerrier actors/groups launch a series of 10 COVID-19 themed malware campaigns. These campaigns have produced over 170 phishing emails seen across our customer base. While broad in their targeting, these actors have exercised minimal restraint in terms of targeting organizations that are critical to COVID-19 response efforts. Specifically, we find it alarming that several of these campaigns recklessly included targets at government healthcare agencies, local and regional governments, large universities with medical programs/centers, regional utilities, medical publishing firms, and insurance companies across the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

None of the malicious campaigns mentioned in this blog were successful in infecting their intended targets. Palo Alto Networks security service offerings (URL Filtering, WildFire, and Threat Prevention) detect and classify all samples and associated infrastructure as malicious.

Pete Renals