What Is Emotet Malware and How Is It Delivered?

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If you are not familiar with the term Emotet, you may think it’s a rock band from the ‘90s or ancient Egyptian king. Those are good guesses, but Emotet is something far more sinister and dangerous than a bunch of musicians or a dead pharaoh. Emotet is a Trojan horse malware program designed to attack financial institutions and anyone who deals with finances, which is pretty much anyone on the planet with a computer and a bank account or credit card. Security researchers first uncovered the existence of Emotet in 2014. Originally, Emotet trojan was intended to steal confidential and personal information from personal computers by secretly sneaking into the operating systems. Emotet infrastructure has since been enhanced to deliver various types of malware, including Trojan horse programs specifically targeted at banks. While the initial versions mostly functioned as a banking trojan, Emotet operators, also known as Mealybug, further updated and reconfigured the trojan to function as a “loader” in the following years. By obfuscating macros and password protecting the Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) program that hides inside the Trojan horse file, Emotet avoids detection as it goes about its nefarious work. Once it has infected a computer, the application utilizes cloud computing to receive updates. The updates work in much the same way as Operating System updates on a PC—automatic and invisible to the infected victims. By using this Emotet infection technique, the criminal groups are able to install updated versions, insert other malicious programs, and take advantage of weak points in the system, such as gaining access to email adresses and other sensitive and private information.

How Emotet is Delivered?

Emotet is distributed via phishing emails. The virus spreads through harmful scripts, macro-enabled document files, and unsolicited links that contain an Emotet loader. Emotet-laden spam emails may have familiar branding intended to look like a genuine email. To trick recipients into downloading the malicious program files, Emotet may use appealing phrases such as “Your Payment Details,” “Your Invoice,” or notifications of an upcoming parcel delivery from reputable companies.

Here’s how this malware evolved. Several versions of Emotet have been released over the years. A malicious JavaScript file was used in the initial versions to spread Emotet infections. Macro-enabled documents are used by later versions of the Emotet malware to download virus payloads from command and control (C&C) servers used by the cybercriminals.

A variety of tricks are employed by Emotet to hide itself from detection and analysis. Emotet, for example, knows when it is hosted in a virtual machine (VM) and goes into sleep mode if it identifies a sandbox, which is a controlled environment designed to let researchers observe Emotet malware on infected machines.

What is more, it provides Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) to other cybercriminals to rent access to the Emotet-infected computers to infect them with other malware such as TRICKBOT, QBOT, and RYUK Ransomware. Hence, the infrastructure essentially acted as a primary door opener spreading the threat laterally on a global scale after gaining access to just a few devices. This is why it is considered to be one of the most professional, most potent and most resilient malware in the cybercrime world compared to other malware operators. As stated by the US Department of Homeland Security, it is also one of the most costly malwares to cleanup. In addition, it has “worm-like” features and uses modular Dynamic Link Libraries DLLs) to continuously evolve which makes it difficult to combat.

At Whom Is Emotet Targeted?

Everyone can be an Emotet target. To date, Emotet has hit individuals, companies, and government entities across the United States and Europe, stealing sensitive data such as banking credentials, financial data, and even Bitcoin wallets.

Top level criminal groups involved in long lasting cybercrime services and further illicit activities used Emotet and other banking trojans to hack computer systems to create botnets, steal user credentials, inject malicious code into web browsers, or steal large sums of money.

Microsoft’s incident response team was called in to help clean up a Emotet attack on Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 2020. The malware managed to effectively disrupt the city’s entire network and cost the city over $1 Million to remove Emotet from the infected system and restore operations. With Emotet’s ability to download and deliver banking Trojans, the possibilities of targets have increased exponentially. The first Emotet version targeted German and Austrian banks, as well as other financial institutions. The later versions, however, have hit companies in the UK, Canada, and the USA.

Defending Against Emotet Attacks

Antivirus software is not sufficient to protect against Emotet and similar Trojans. Identifying multivalent data theft viruses is only the beginning of the solution for end users. Emotet and other Trojans, like human viruses, constantly change, making it hard to find a go-to solution that can guard against them completely. Infection risk can be minimized by taking organizational and technical measures against malware operators. The following steps are recommended to help network administrators protect their networks against the threat of Emotet: Provide ongoing security awareness training to make sure your employees do not open an email that is malicious or enables malicious content. Block email attachments that contain executable code files (e.g., DLL, EXE, JAVAscript, and PowerShell that can execute the Emotet payload on the victim’s computer with each reboot) by using an email attachment filter.. Prevent the users’ ability to open suspicious attachments (e.g., zip files).

Final Thoughts

Emotet is truly one of the most dangerous malware threats in the history of cyber security. All are at risk, and anyone could become a victim—private individuals, organizations, and even government agencies. As soon as the Trojan has infiltrated a system, it can install additional malware that collects information. Currently, none of the solutions provides complete resistance to Emotet involved malware infection once it is introduced into your system. Nevertheless, one surefire way exists to keep the virus from infecting networks and reaching your system in the first place. Trustifi has created a multi-layered, next-gen email security solution—the best way to minimize the risk of an Emotet attack. Designed for small to mid-sized businesses, Trustifi’s email security solutions offer comprehensive protection. Trustifi’s Inbound Shield scans all incoming emails in real-time before they land in your users’ inboxes. Using Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Optical Character Recognition, Inbound Shield examines every email from many angles—header, subject, body, embedded links, and attachments. Its powerful engines and algorithms pick up on the telltale signs of phishing, whaling, impersonation, spoofing, pretextingtyposquatting, and a host of other devices employed by cybercrooks to tempt users to open their message and click a malicious link or view malicious files that trigger malware like Emotet. Inbound Shield quarantines the suspicious email and notifies the security team to investigate. Thus, your systems are protected from the initial trigger that can lead to catastrophe. Once available only to giant companies with plenty of capital, state-of-the-art protection is now available to small businesses and startups. Trustifi designs their high-quality security solutions to fit the needs and the budgets of the most vulnerable cyberattack targets—small businesses like yours. Find out how easy it is to protect your company against Emotet, phishing, and other cyberattacks. Contact a Trustifi security consultant today.

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