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Tax Time: Let the Phishing Begin

February 18, 2015 - 7 Comments

This post was authored by Earl Carter and Craig Williams.

With the April 15th US tax deadline only about 2 months away, a new wave of tax related phishing is underway. In this latest spear-phishing campaign, attackers are attempting to gain access to your system so that they can steal your banking and other online credentials. An interesting twist to this latest campaign is that they seem to be specifically targeting high level security professionals and CTOs in technical companies.

On Tuesday, Talos noticed the beginning of a phishing campaign in our telemetry data. The subject of the emails all revolve around payment confirmation or Federal taxes. Some of the common subjects include:

Payment Confirmation
Federal tax payment received
Federal TAX payment
Payment Service

These initial emails seemed to come from an email address that was related to the government, such as or The attachment was a Word doc named receipt_4676373.doc, which included a malicious VBA script that automatically executed if you opened the attachment. The body claims that your confirmation number is 4676373 and is similar to the following:


1st Email Body


By Wednesday, the campaign had changed the emails slightly. Now the source addresses are more widely varied. A few of the source addresses include, but are no longer limited to addresses with gov in them:

Federal Payment <>
Confrim Federal Tax Payment <>
Confrim Federal Tax Payment <>
Federal TAX Payment <>

The attachment changed to receipt_3458934.doc. The body of the message was also updated.  The claim number was changed to match 3458934 in the attachment name. Furthermore, the body now includes a line indicating a refund amount similar to “Тotal: $1206.86”. Finally, another line was added stating that the reader needed to edit the attachment and send it back. A sample of the 2nd generation message is shown below:


revised Email Body

The Word document attachment is also being updated throughout the campaign. So far, the following hashes have been identified:


Examining the Word document reveals that it contains a malicious visual basic macro that downloads and launches an executable that then, pulls down a malicious “Banking Trojan” commonly referred to as “Vawtrak”.  Vawtrak  (69aab7ca3a69dec64cdfbe3f548b7e102a3dc875cf4dbfba6f9670d8cde3150b) is downloaded from The following is a snippet from the vba script which shows a C&C call.


Click to enlarge image

Vawtrak is designed to capture user credentials for over a hundred different specific online sites. Although a large percentage of the sites targeted are banking/financial sites, the list does include some phone providers and other online retail sites. For most of the sites they are targeting multiple web URL’s for each site in order to collect as much information as possible from the target user. It is interesting to note that the malware attempted to detect if it was being run within a sandbox as well as trying to determine if a debugger was detected. This is likely to try and hinder automated analysis.


Click to enlarge image

Using the ThreatGRID sandbox we were able to find VBA script files associated with this malware dating back to December of 2014, additional components dated back to 2013.


Click to enlarge image


Valtrack Banking Trojan

Malicious Word Attachments


Phishing is still a commonly utilized attack vector. Instead of randomly utilizing this technique, threat actors time these attacks to coincide with some well known event. Whether that is the latest tragedy, the latest storm, or in this case tax time. Maintaining a layered approach to security helps to fight against this constant threat, but users must always think before they click, and be wary of unknown attachments or links, especially those in emails that that they receive.

Advanced Malware Protection (AMP) is ideally suited to prevent the execution of the malware used by these threat actors.

CWS or WSA web scanning prevents access to malicious websites, including watering hole attacks, and detects malware used in these attacks.

The Network Security protection of IPS and NGFW have up-to-date signatures to detect malicious network activity by threat actors.

ESA can block spear phishing emails sent by threat actors as part of their campaign


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  1. Both interesting and informative; a timely warning. Thanks!

  2. It's incredible that the same sorts of attacks which introduced vulnerabilities into the system a decade ago are still (if not more) prevalent that ever

  3. My wife opened this attachment on her iPhone. What do we need to do to make sure we are protected? Thank you!

    • The vawtrak executable appears to be targeting windows systems, but to be safe you can take you phone to an Apple store and have them check it out.

  4. Some more word doc hashes that have been identified: 9dd7ded01fcae43dbc45250a173042e451a1eca060894c4ef653e9411f219a82 fbcc1776fb765f4e43b74210710f07ab0e9d99d705d341ced5340ba9f9243948 ff03a2570352ecef3986364e127448ed4cd152961678532b79f2b041b128a543 4f74f6c8102665aa3eb86046083ff5b3042d4e52dfad16823a14de8c295746a5

  5. Nice write-up, consistent with the messages that I'm seeing. Additional, indicators from my samples ... Word Attachment ec224b5e78d3b5e68df6eb7d0a783732 073ef6a7256203eec590395e7ca91c5b Malware fetched from ... ehrenforth[.]com akcnet[.]com Malware e637eef61be540030c1d393e1b0013d1

  6. I have been so focused on preparing the tax numbers that I was not thinking of phishing schemes. Every time I think I am sophisticated enough to detect scams, the "phishers" become more sophisticated. Thank you for the heads up. I am glad that there are some very good minds fighting cyber crime!