This article has been created in order to explain to you what is the Office 365 Phishing Scam and how you can remove them as well as all potentially unwanted programs delivered through them.
The Office 365 Phishing Scam is a popular malware tactic that attempts to manipulate computer users into infecting themselves with viruses or disclosing their passwords. At the moment we do not have information about the perpetrators behind it. Our article gives an in-depth explanation of how it propagates and how victims can attempt to remove active infections.
|Name||Office365 Phishing Scam|
|Type||Phishing email scam|
|Short Description||The Office 365 Phishing Scam is a recent example of the scam tactic that extorts the targets into interacting with a scam site.|
|Symptoms||Victims will receive email messages that contain the phishing instructions.|
|Distribution Method||Various, including the most popular methods.|
|Detection Tool|| See If Your System Has Been Affected by Office365 Phishing Scam |
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|User Experience||Join Our Forum to Discuss Office365 Phishing Scam.|
Office 365 Phishing Scam – Update October 2019
Computer criminals are now utilizing a more advanced and complex technique in order to affect the intended targets. Not only are the hackers continuously creating new hacker-made sites, but rather than creating fake login prompts they now use an additional check. The sites are hosted on similar sounding domain names and are designed just like the real Microsoft pages and associated Office 365 sites.
Previously when the users entered in their credentials they were presented with an error page, at that moment their username and password will be immediately forwarded to the criminals. The newer pages however will pipe them onto the legitimate Microsoft pages and open up the victim’s inbox. The exact malware sequence is the following:
- The victims will receive phishing email messages that use social engineering tactics in order to manipulate the recipients into believing that they have received a legitimate message from Microsoft or Office 365. All of the posted links will lead to the fake hacker-controlled pages. They are hosted on Microsoft Azure and embedded in the hacker-made sites. The dangerous fact here is that these pages are delivered with the Microsoft security certificates. The web browsers of the visitors will not alert the users that this is a phishing site.
- When the hacker-made login prompts are interacted with and the users enter in their credentials a script will validate the provided information. This is done by triggering a back-end client which will verify the credentials via the IMAP protocol.
- If the login is successful a hacker-controlled engine will start to retrieve the contents of the victim’s inbox. On the frontend the victims will be shown to their legitimate inboxes as the credentials have already been passed via the embedded page.
These attacks are categorized as extremely dangerous as most users will have no way of knowing that they have fallen victim to the phishing scam. Users should be very careful when opening email message notifications or visiting sites that are hosted on domain names that are not hosted by Microsoft.
This attack appears to be coordinated by a very experienced hacking group, this gives us reasons to believe that the links can also be sent using other channels including social media profiles. The hackers can use hacked or automatically generated profiles and post the fake notifications there. This can be either on the timelines, walls and other public areas, as well as group chats and private messages.
Office 365 Phishing Scam – Distribution Ways – Update September 2019
A new campaign using a Office 365 phishing strategy has recently been discovered by security experts. The victims will receive phishing email messages stating that it comes from the support team. The users are manipulated into thinking that their password is set to expire and they need to reset them. A link will be provided to them that will lead to a login prompt window — if the users enter in their credentials they will be relayed to the hackers.
Office 365 Phishing Scam – Distribution Ways – Update August 2019
Several new attacks are leveraging the fake Office 365 login page. However the technique which the attackers are using is novel. The phishing sites are hosted on the cloud infrastructure of Microsoft Azure which can make many users into thinking that the page is hosted on the same servers. What’s particularly dangerous is that upon visiting the page a valid SSL certificate from Microsoft will be shown. Direct phishing attacks with various other services and products from the company can also be made possible: Office, OneDrive and etc.
The hackers have created a script that can automatially scrape the company-branded resources and create very convincing login pages. What’s particularly worrying is that the programmers have added in an extra measure which can be pretty hard to bypass.
Office 365 Phishing Scam – Distribution Ways
There are various scenarios that the hacker operators behind the Office 365 scam messages can utilize. The individual campaigns may be operated by various individuals and groups and targeted against different areas.
One of the most frequent methods is the distribution of spam email messages — they are sent in bulk and use web design elements from well-known Internet services, companies or sites that the users might use. In the case of Office 365 phishing pages they can be customized to appear as being sent by Microsoft. The included interactive elements instead of the actual Office 365 service will lead to scam login pages or virus downloads.
An alternative is the creation of fake web sites that will use similar sounding domain names and content. To further fool the users the administrators may also add security certificates that will be signed with the site name or a name similar to Microsoft. Their main goal is to coerce the visitors into downloading a file or interacting with a script that will ultimately redirect them to the main Office 365 landing page.
These two methods are also popular in spreading infected payload carriers. There are two primary types that can lead to a successful Office 365 redirect infection:
- Malicious Documents — The criminals can craft documents containing malicious macros in all popular formats: presentations, rich text documents, databases and spreadsheets. When opened the users will be asked to enable the built-in scripts they will display the redirect page.
- Software Installers — Fake installers of applications related to Office 365 or related productivity apps will be created. When they are started during the installation procedure or when it is complete the landing page will be displayed. The hackers will typically target apps like productivity tools, add-ons, creativity suites and system utilities. Common infections are Office 365-related clients, manuals, updates and etc.
These files can also be spread on file-sharing networks where boh legitiamte and pirate files can be found. They are very popular for sending out fake installers of Office 365 or related files.
Another tactic is the use of browser hijackers which represent malicious web browser plugins. They are made compatible with the most popular web browsers and uploaded to their relevant repositories with fake user reviews and developer credentials. The users browsing the extensions page will be given promises of new feature additions or performance optimizations. If they are installed the browser setings will be changed redirect the victims to the Office 365 phishing scam message.
Office 365 Phishing Scam – In-Depth Overview
As soon as the Office 365 phishing scam page is opened the users will be directed to a fake login prompt. In most cases any entered account credentials will automatically be forwarded to the hacker operators. The site will be designed to look like Microsoft’s service page and may also utilize a similar sounding domain name or security certificates.
In many cases additional threats will be delivered and launched. An example is the installation of tracking cookies and data harvesting scripts. They are used to create an unique ID that is assigned to each infected host — this is done by creating a report of all installed hardware components, certain operating system variables and user settings. The collected information is processed through a special algorithm that generates the unique ID. The other type of collected information is related to the user information, the engine can be used to directly expose the identity of the users. The engine will search for strings such as their name, address, interests and any stored account credentials. This means that the engine will access both the operating system, file contents and any installed third-party applications. The harvested information can be used for various crimes including identity theft and financial abuse.
As the majority of Office 365 phishing scam messages lead to the display of a landing page through the web browser there is always the opportunity to place ads and sponsored content. They can take many forms such as pop-ups, banners, redirect links, in-line links and etc. Upon interaction with them on the user’s site the hacker operators will receive income.
An alternative is the inclusion of cryptocurrency miners which can be inserted either as stand-alone programs or via scripts executed in the browser. They will take advantage of the built-in hardware resources in order to execute complex cryptocurrency-related tasks. When successful operations are reported to the relevant servers funds will automatically be transferred over to their wallets.
In other cases the page can also be used to spread malware strains of all popular types:
- Ransomware — These are among the most dangerous virus infections as they will scan the local contents and process sensitive user data with a strong cipher leaving them inaccessible. Usually this is done by using a built-in list of target data. When the ransomware is finished processing the information the users will be left with unusable files and a ransomware “note” which will blackmail them into paying a “decryption fee” in order to falsely restore the affected files.
- Trojans — The Trojan horse infection is a classic virus infection which installs a local client on the victim’s computer that establishes a secure and persistent infection with a hacker-controlled server. It allows the operators to take over control of the machines, spy on the victim users and hijack their data.
- Browser Hijackers — They are malicious web browser plugins that are advertised as useful additions to the most popular applications. They are often uploaded to the respective extension stores (repositories) and advertised as useful additions. As soon as they are installed changes to the applications will take place, most notably the the default options (home page, search engine and new tabs page). This is done in order to redirect the visitors to the Office 365 phishing scam landing page as soon as they open their browser windows.
Office 365 Phishing Scams — Common Scenarios
Most of the Office 365 phishing scams are done by convincing the victims that they have received a legitimate notification from a well-known service, company, colleagues or even friends. Even though every campaign features a distinct approach most of them share similar elements.
The majority of the phishing attempts will usually pose as messages that are sent by Microsoft. This is done by using signatures, elements and body that are hijacked from legitimate messages sent in by the company. The phishing emails will coerce the recipients into interacting with the attached payloads (usually malicious documents) and links.
Common scenarios that have been observed in the past include the following:
- Office 365 Out of Date Notification — These messages will state that the Office 365 installation that the users are logged in is outdated. They are urged into updating it by clicking on a link. The signature that is posted in the message reads “Microsoft 2018 Team”. The captured samples of this campaign are all rudimentary in design and contains typical phishing elements such as scare tactics and warnings, bold lettering or all caps text. In this particular example the recipients are given instructions that they need to confirm their inboxes within 12 hours. Otherwise their email inboxes will be disabled.
- Account Ownership Confirmation — This is typical case of phishing that can is widely sent to victims on a global scale. The hackers behind this campaign attempt to confuse the victims into believing that they need to confirm ownership of their mailboxes. The messages contain elements taken from real Microsoft notifications and the call to action (CTA) will lead to a fake login page where the victims account credentials are requested.
- Resolve Issues Phishing Scams — Another set of related menages that are being distributed is the warning scam that will manipulate the recipients into thinking that they have unresolved errors that they need to fix. They are led into believing that if they do not fix the problems then their accounts will be blocked. Like the previous cases bad grammar and all caps letter along with other common elements can reveal that the message is a scam and should be disregarded.
Office 365 Phishing Scam #1 — Microsoft Excel Document
In this example the victim users will be shown a Microsoft Excel Online landing page. Usually the link is placed in phishing emails, fake sites or online communities, including social networks. The success of this scam largely depends on the outreach.
Such attack campaigns largely depend on hacked or custom-made accounts on all popular mainstream social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Depending on the hacking collective this may also affect niche audiences such as Discord servers as well. If the victims enter in their account credentials they will automatically be transferred to the hacker operators behind the scam.
The Specific Excel Online example has been analyzed further to harvest the following types of information:
- Email Address
- Client IP
- User Agent
Office 365 Phishing Scam #2 — LinkedIn Delivery
We have detected another scam tactic that is being employed by a hacking collective. It makes use of LinkedIn messages as a medium for spreading the link to the phishing landing page. There are two types of accounts used in the process:
- Hacked Accounts — The criminals behind the campaign can use hijacked accounts which are obtained by them or bought from the underground hacker markets.
- Custom Accounts — The hackers can create special accounts in order to spam contacts with the phishing link.
Regardless of the used mechanism to create the accounts they will send out connection requests and send messages containing the link. The malicious users may also fill out a fake bio in order to add credibility to the accounts.
Upon clicking on them the victim users will be redirected to the fake login page described above.
Office 365 Phishing Scam #3 — Microsoft SharePoint Login Page
A new email campaign has been identified that is related to the widespread Office 365 phishing messages. The users might receive messages that are disguised as document links. When they are clicked the victims will be shown a prompt asking them to enter in their Microsoft account login details or another authentication mechanism.
The same approach can be applied with fake web sites that may use similar sounding domain names to well-known online services.
Office 365 Phishing Scam #4 — Bot Generated Login Pages
In early December 2018 another set of Office 365 phishing pages were detected. The reports indicate that they are created using bot commands using a public DNS service in order to create many domain names. One of the explanations for this behavior is due to a widespread infection of web servers or computers. The hackers may the web serving of content which is then linked via hacker-controlled accounts of dynamic DNS providers. This will result in the creation of such sites. The pages themselves are simple login prompts that are very similar to the above-mentioned examples.
Office 365 Phishing Scam #5 — Office 365 Redirect Page
A different variant of this phishing page is via a redirect page. It is designed as a Microsoft-housed link that will display a “Microsoft Docs” left side bar with a fake Office 365 login landing page in the center of the screen. It is very possible that the intention of the hackers behind this particular version is to present a redirect page that may be called “Microsoft Docs” or another similar equivalent. From the design of the page the victims may be persuaded into thinking that the page is part of a “Microsoft Docs” service and houses a document accessible only via the Office 365 account credentials. In this particular case a rich text document (Microsoft Word) is used however all popular file formats may be used: presentations, databases and spreadsheets as well.
Remove Office 365 Phishing Scam from Windows and Your Browser
If you want to remove the Office 365 Phishing Scam from your computer, we strongly suggest that you follow the removal instructions posted underneath this article. They have been created with the main idea In mind to help you delete this virus either manually or automatically. Be advised that according to experts the best way to try and remove the software that is causing the Office 365 Phishing Scamming pop-ups is to use an advanced anti-malware software. Such program is created with the idea in mind to fully scan your computer and try to eliminate any traces of unwanted programs while protecting your computer against future infections as well.