Gmail blocked 18 Million phishing and malware emails using COVID-19 lures in a week

Pierluigi Paganini April 17, 2020

Google says that the Gmail malware scanners have blocked around 18 million phishing and malware emails using COVID-19 lures in just one week.

Google announced that its anti-malware solutions implemented to defend its Gmail users have blocked around 18 million phishing and malware emails using COVID-19 lures within the last seven days. The IT giant also announced to have blocked more than 240 million spam messages related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Google also revealed that hackers are also attempting to impersonate government authorities and healthcare organizations, including the WHO, to trick victims that are in smart working.

“Every day, Gmail blocks more than 100 million phishing emails. During the last week, we saw 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19. This is in addition to more than 240 million COVID-related daily spam messages.” wrote Gmail Security PM Neil Kumaran and G Suite & GCP Lead Security PM Sam Lugani. “Our ML models have evolved to understand and filter these threats, and we continue to block more than 99.9% of spam, phishing, and malware from reaching our users.”

The company claims to block more than 100 million phishing emails every day and in the last week, 18 million daily malware and phishing emails were related to COVID-19.

The malware scanners implemented by Google are able to block over 99.9% of all spam, phishing, and malware messages sent to Gmail users.

Attackers behind these phishing campaigns that take advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak have been using both financial and fear-inducing baits to make their targets respond to their requests.

The phishing attacks and scam attempts blocked by big G use both fear and financial incentives to trick victims into doing specific actions, some examples shared by the company are:

  • Impersonating authoritative government organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) to solicit fraudulent donations or distribute malicious documents aimed at delivering malware.
  • Phishing messages sent to employees operating in a smart-working.
  • Capitalizing on government stimulus packages and imitates government institutions to phish small businesses.
  • Targeting organizations impacted by stay-at-home orders.

Experts pointed out that in most cases attackers have simply adapted their phishing campaigns to use COVID-19 lures.

“We have put proactive monitoring in place for COVID-19-related malware and phishing across our systems and workflows. In many cases, these threats are not new—rather, they’re existing malware campaigns that have simply been updated to exploit the heightened attention on COVID-19.” continues the report.

Google added that every time a new threat is detected, it is added to the Safe Browsing API to protect users in Chrome, Gmail, and all other company products to extend the protection to over four billion devices.

Google highlighted that in G Suite, advanced phishing and malware controls are turned on by default.

Below the recommendations provided by Google:

“Admins can look at Google-recommended defenses on our advanced phishing and malware protection page, and may choose to enable the security sandbox. ” concludes Google.

“Users should: 

  • Complete a Security Checkup to improve your account security
  • Avoid downloading files that you don’t recognize; instead, use Gmail’s built-in document preview
  • Check the integrity of URLs before providing login credentials or clicking a link—fake URLs generally imitate real URLs and include additional words or domains
  • Avoid and report phishing emails 
  • Consider enrolling in Google’s Advanced Protection Program (APP)—we’ve yet to see anyone that participates in the program be successfully phished, even if they’re repeatedly targeted”

Recently Microsoft, which tracks thousands of phishing campaigns every week, revealed that of the millions of targeted messages observed only roughly 60,000 use the Coronavirus as a lure, it represents less than two percent of the total malspam traffic.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – Gmail, hacking)

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