ATO “Incoming Fax Report” Malware Email

“Incoming Fax Report” email that purports to be from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) claims that you should open an attached Microsoft Word file to read a secure document.

Brief Analysis:
The email is not from the ATO, it is not a “fax report”, and the attached Word document does not contain any legitimate file, secure or otherwise. In fact, the Microsoft Word document contains a malicious macro, that, if enabled, can download and install malware on your computer.

ATO Incoming Fax Report Malware Email

Detailed Analysis:
According to this email, which claims to be from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), you can view an “incoming fax report” by opening an attached Microsoft Word file. The fax is supposedly a secure document. The email features the Australian Government logo along with a seemingly legitimate privacy footer.

However, the email is not from the ATO and the attached Word file does not contain the tax-related document you might be expecting.

If you try to open the attachment, you will be prompted to click “enable macros”, ostensibly so that the document’s “secure” contents can be correctly decrypted and displayed.

But, instead of decrypting the document, the macro will contact a server and download and install malware. The specific type of malware payload may vary. Malicious macros are regularly used to infect computers with ransomware. Ransomware can lock the files on your computer and then demand that you pay money to cyber criminals to get a decryption key.

Alternatively, the malware may steal sensitive information such as banking and social media login details from the infected computer.

Unless you have a specific need to use macros and are aware of their potential security risks, it is wise to leave them disabled by default. For those that might not be aware, a “macro” in this context is a set of commands and instructions that can be collected as a single command in order to quickly and automatically accomplish a task.  This earlier Hoax-Slayer report has more information about macro malware attacks.

Last updated: December 18, 2016
First published: December 18, 2016
By Brett M. Christensen
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