A clever and quite dangerous malware attack is currently underway.
You may receive an email that claims that you can view a contract by opening an attached Microsoft Word document.
Other versions may claim that a “law-abiding citizen” has received a file by mistake that contains a large amount of your personal information. Again, the information is supposedly contained in an attached Word document.
The Email Knows Your Name and Home Address
Your first thought is that the email is just another scam. But, unlike many others of its ilk, this scam message has a dangerous twist. It knows your full name and home address. Your name is included in the subject line and the body of the email. The filename of the attachment also includes your surname along with a string of letters and numbers. And, your full address is included in the email’s body.
Subject: [Recipient’s Full Name] Contract KPYZ030417YR
Hello, [Recipient’s First Name]!
Name: [recipient’s full name]
[Recipient’s home address removed]
Filename: [Recipient’s Surname]_KPYZ030417YR.doc
Subject: [Recipient’s First Name]
Hi, [Recipient’s Full Name]
I am bothering you for a very urgent occasion. Allhough you don’t know me, but I have large ammount of personal info concerning you. The matter is that, most likely by mistake, the data of your account has been sent to me.
For instance, your address is:
[Recipient’s home address removed]
I am a law-abiding citizen, so I decided to warn may have been hacked. I attached the file – [Recipient’s name].doc that that was emailed to me, that you could explore what info has become available for scammers.
File password is – 6813
Thus, your initial suspicions may be allayed by the inclusion of your personal details. You may think that the email must be from someone who knows you personally or really does have your information by mistake. And, the attachment is a seemingly innocuous Microsoft Word document. So, perhaps, you may conclude, the message is genuine after all.
Attachment is Password Protected
To further the illusion of legitimacy, the attachment is password protected. That is, to open it, you must enter a password that is included in the email.
This apparent extra level of security along with the inclusion of your personal details may be enough to convince you that the email is legitimate.
What Happens When You Open the Attachment?
After you click the attachment file and enter the password, the following screen will appear:
If you then open the file in Microsoft Word and enable editing as instructed, a malicious macro will then run. The macro will download and install malware on your computer. The exact nature of this malware payload may vary depending on the goals of the criminals responsible.
Further Nasty Twists
A report about these attacks on the Naked Security blog notes that if the malware download is blocked by your security software it displays a message that instructs you to turn off your firewall and antivirus software to allow the download to complete.
And, at the end, another popup window will inform you that the file is corrupted and cannot be opened.
So, at that point, you might give up trying to open the file and get on with your day. But, by then, the malware may have already been installed on your computer without you realising.
How Did The Criminals Get Your Information?
Clearly, these emails are specifically targeted at individuals. That is what makes them so dangerous. So, how did the criminals get this information in the first place?
The criminals may have used information stolen during various data breaches. Many companies and online service providers have suffered such breaches in recent years. Often, criminals are not able to harvest sensitive information such as passwords or credit card numbers during the breaches. But, they may have been able to compile lists of names and associated home and email addresses as a result of the breaches. And these lists may then have been sold to other criminals for use in attacks like the one described here.
Or, the criminals may have simply collated information from publicly available databases or websites. Sadly, it is not particularly difficult to collate large amounts of information about a person via various online databases, social media websites, and other publicly available documents.
What to Do To Protect Yourself
Do not follow any instructions that claim that you must enable editing or enable macros to view a Microsoft Office document that has been sent to you by email. There is no reason why this should ever be required just to view an ordinary document.
Unless you have a specific need to use them, it is best to leave macros disabled by default.
And, be wary of any unsolicited message that tries to get you to open an attachment or click a link. Even if it does contain your personal details and look legitimate at first glance.
What is a Macro?
Just to clarify, a macro can be defined as a set of commands and instructions that can be collected as a single command in order to quickly and automatically accomplish a task.
Complex macros can be created using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) and can be very helpful in some workflows.
But malicious VBA macros can also be created and distributed. Back in the day, macro viruses were common computer security threats. But, for the last several years, they have been much less significant because later versions of Microsoft Office disabled macros by default.
Importance NoticeAfter considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.
These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.
Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.
And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.
When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.
I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.
A Big Thank YouI would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.
I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.
Closing DateHoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.
Thank you, one and all!