Microsoft has filed a lawsuit in an effort to seize control of several domains used to launch COVID-19-themed cyberattacks against the company’s customers in 62 countries.
The tech company started tracking the malicious activity in December 2019, after identifying it as a phishing scheme attempting to compromise Microsoft customer accounts and access emails, contacts, sensitive files, and other information.
After the scheme was blocked and the malicious app used in the attack disabled, the cybercriminals changed their tactics and switched to COVID-19-related lures in recent phishing attacks.
The activity, Microsoft corporate vice president Tom Burt explains, is another form of business email compromise (BEC), a type of fraud that caused losses of more than $1.7 billion in 2019, according to a 2020 report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
As part of these attacks, the cybercriminals sent phishing emails designed to appear as if sent from an employer or another trusted source. The emails were sent to business leaders across industries, in an attempt to gain access to their accounts to steal information and money.
Initially, the emails contained deceptive messages related to generic activities, but later started using messages related to the COVID-19 pandemic, in an attempt to entice the victims into clicking on malicious links.
Those who clicked on the links were prompted to grant access permissions to a malicious web application that seemed legitimate, but was instead controlled by the cybercriminals to access the victim’s Microsoft Office 365 account.
“This scheme enabled unauthorized access without explicitly requiring the victims to directly give up their login credentials at a fake website or similar interface, as they would in a more traditional phishing campaign,” Burt notes.
Victims of this scheme unwittingly provided the cybercriminals with access to their Office 365 account contents, including emails and contact lists, notes, and content stored on OneDrive for Business and corporate SharePoint systems.
By taking legal action against the operators behind these COVID-19-themed BEC attacks, Microsoft was able to disable key domains from the attackers’ infrastructure. The tech giant’s lawsuit targeted several fake Office domains.
To stay protected, Microsoft advises users to enable two-factor authentication on all of their accounts, either business or personal, and to educate themselves to spot phishing schemes. Enabling security alerts on links and content from suspicious sites and keeping an eye on suspicious activity on their email accounts should also help staying protected.