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Email threats return, leveraging on COVID-19 Delta variant

Proofpoint researchers have observed a significant increase in COVID-19 related threats since late June 2021.

user iconReporter
Thu, 26 Aug 2021
Email threats return, leveraging on COVID-19 Delta variant
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Multiple distinct types of high-volume threats have pivoted back to using COVID-19 social engineering themes as the global concern about the Delta variant continues to rise.

Proofpoint researchers have been tracking ongoing threats capitalising on COVID-19 and related coronavirus themes since the beginning of the pandemic - TA452, known to distribute Emotet, first began using COVID-19 in email threats in January 2020.

The newly observed campaigns related to the identified malware follow a lull in COVID-19-themed threat campaigns through the spring and early summer of 2021.

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Since late June 2021, Proofpoint has observed high volume COVID-19 themed campaigns distributing RustyBuer, Formbook, and Ave Maria malware, in addition to multiple corporate phishing attempts to steal Microsoft and O365 credentials.

The increase in COVID-19 themes in Proofpoint data aligns with public interest in the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant.

According to global Google Trend data, worldwide searches for “Delta variant” first peaked the last week in June 2021 and have continued through August 2021 so far. Proofpoint researchers also identified an increase in business email compromise threats leveraging COVID-19 themes in this time frame.

If the severity of the Delta variant increases in proportion to COVID-19 infections, and an expected increase in media coverage worldwide, Proofpoint researchers believe it is possible more threat actors will begin to use the virus as a lure in future campaigns while infection rates and interest in the virus and protective measures remains high.

Based on past behaviour, media attention increases the likelihood that actors will shift back to a broader adoption of COVID-19 as social engineering material and localise that material to their perspective regions.

[Related: Rackspace Technology releases new security offering]

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