Fake DFAT “Secure Message” Email Contains Malware

Email purporting to be from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) claims that you have received a secure message and should open an attached file to retrieve the message.

Brief Analysis:
The email is not from DFAT and the attachment does not contain a secure message. The attached Microsoft Word document contains a malicious macro that, if allowed to run, can download and install malware on your computer.  If you receive one of these emails, do not open any attachments or click any links that it contains.

Subject: You have received a Secure Message
From: DFAT Gov Au <Secure.Message@dfat-gov.com>
DEFAT Secure Message Malware

Detailed Analysis:
According to this email, which claims to be from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), you have received a secure message. The message suggests that you can retrieve your secure message by opening an attachment. The attached file is a seemingly harmless Microsoft Word document.

However, the email is certainly not from DFAT and the attachment does not contain any legitimate message, secure or otherwise. Instead, the attached Word document contains a malicious macro designed to install malware on your computer.

When you attempt to open the attachment, you will be prompted to click “enable macros”, supposedly so that the document’s contents can be properly decrypted.

But, instead of decrypting the document as you expect, the macro will instead connect to a website and download and install malware. The exact type of malware downloaded may vary. Malicious macros are often used to infect computers with ransomware. Once installed, ransomware can lock the files on your computer and then demand that you pay a fee to online criminals to obtain a decryption key. In other cases, the malware that the macro installs may be designed to steal sensitive information such as banking login credentials from the infected computer.

Unless you have a specific need to use macros and are aware of their potential security risks, it would be best 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. You can read more about macros and their dangers in this earlier Hoax-Slayer report.

DFAT has published a warning about this attack on its website, which notes:

DFAT is aware of a current email scam with the subject line You have received a Secure Message.

The harmful email is being distributed under a dfat-gov.org.au name. 

The word document attached contains a virus. People receiving this email should immediately delete it. Do not open the attachment.

DFAT will only ever send email from the official DFAT.gov.au address.

Last updated: December 17, 2016
First published: December 17, 2016
By Brett M. Christensen
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