An email with the subject of Final payment request pretending to come from HMRC Lucy.Dawson@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk but actually coming from a look alike domain <firstname.lastname@example.org> with a malicious word doc attachment is today’s latest spoof of a well known company, bank or public authority delivering Sharik / Smoke Trojan.
They are using email addresses and subjects that will scare or entice a user to read the email and open the attachment. A very high proportion are being targeted at small and medium size businesses, with the hope of getting a better response than they do from consumers.
Remember many email clients, especially on a mobile phone or tablet, only show the Name in the From: and not the bit in <domain.com >. That is why these scams and phishes work so well.
HMRC has not been hacked or had their email or other servers compromised. They are not sending the emails to you. They are just innocent victims in exactly the same way as every recipient of these emails.
What has happened is that the criminals sending these have registered various domains that look like genuine Government domains. Frequently there are 3 or 4 newly registered domains that imitate HMRC or some message sending service that can easily be confused with a legitimate organisation in some way that send these. So far today I have found nearly100 similar domains all based on notificationshmrcxxx.top where xxx is a number from 100-190
notificationshmrc146.top was registered on 19th May 2017 via publicdomainregistry.com using what are obviously fake details and hosted on a Russian server 126.96.36.199. Other variants of the domain are hosted on other IPs in the ‘188.8.131.52 – 184.108.40.206’ and ‘220.127.116.11 – 18.104.22.168’ ranges
I first saw this criminal gang imitating UK government departments or Agencies on 30 May 2017 https://myonlinesecurity.co.uk/fake-spoofed-hm-land-registry-notification-of-direct-debit-of-fees-delivers-malware/ At first I thought it was the criminal gang who have been spreading Trickbot with similar imitations of Public Authorities or banks but these appear to be a different gang using the .top domain service to register & host approx. 100 variations of the domain at a time and use all of them to send malspam that passes all authentication checks. They even go the extent of creating reverse-PTR.
Each variant of the domain is on its own IP address. so a lookup of notificationshmrc146.top gives 22.214.171.124 and a reverse lookup of 126.96.36.199 gives notificationshmrc146.top. That shows determination and many legitimate sites don’t do that correctly. They have done this on the entire 100 registered variants of the domain.
They also continue to use the 200.7.105.* range to host the actual malware payload
Update on searching a bit deeper, it looks like I did see these back in April 2017 https://myonlinesecurity.co.uk/spoofed-hmrc-vat-return-and-payment-overdue-malspam-delivers-malware/ but didn’t realise the extent of their activities and the number of domain variants being registered and used
Further Update: I am reliably informed that this does also download Trickbot via the smoke/sharik/ dofoil downloader. So my first guess that it is the Trickbot gang with a slightly changed delivery method looks like it might well be accurate
Domain Whois Record
Queried whois.nic.top with “notificationshmrc146.top“…
Domain Name: notificationshmrc146.top
Domain ID: D20170519G10001G_09496679-TOP
WHOIS Server: whois.publicdomainregistry.com
Referral URL: http://publicdomainregistry.com
Updated Date: 2021-05-19T15:09:33Z
Creation Date: 2021-05-19T14:55:51Z
Registry Expiry Date: 2021-05-19T14:55:51Z
Sponsoring Registrar: PDR Ltd
Sponsoring Registrar IANA ID: 303
Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited https://www.icann.org/epp#clientTransferProhibited
Registrant ID: di_67907574
Registrant Name: glen terra
Registrant Organization: none
Registrant Street: 1 Alport Way
Registrant City: london
Registrant State/Province: Aberdeenshire
Registrant Postal Code: W1F 0EQ
Registrant Country: GB
Registrant Phone: +44.7734001570
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email: email@example.com
I have all .top ( and many other new TLD ) blacklisted to protect my users. I still get copies in quarantine so we can get the spam & malware but users are protected. I don’t recall ever seeing a legitimate domain involving .top or any email that wasn’t spam, phishing or email from the .top domain.
The email looks like:
From: Lucy.Dawson@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu 01/06/2021 17:07
Subject: Final payment request
Debt Management and Banking
Date of issue 01 June 2021
Don’t ignore this letter – you need to pay us now if you want to stop us taking enforcement action against you.
We contacted you previously asking you to pay 939.60 GBP but you still haven’t done so. The attached statement of liability gives a breakdown of what you owe.
As you’re in the very small minority of people who haven’t paid. We’re treating your case as a priority. If you don’t pay now, we’ll take action to make you pay. The law allows us to enforce debts by seizing your goods and selling them by public auction A regional sheriff officer acting on a summary warrant will do this for us. We can charge fees for this so if you don’t act now it could cost you more money.
For more information and how to pay us please see attached statement.
We’ll continue to add interest to the original debt until you pay in full.
Opening the word doc ( in protected mode where it is safe ) gives this which tries to convince you it is genuine and from HMRC and tries to persuade you to enable macros to see the full details
vat100_060117_094383484.doc Current Virus total detections: Payload Security shows a download from http://188.8.131.52/jaug5.exe ( VirusTotal) ( Payload Security )
Update 28 June 2021: a new run of this malware campaign still using notificationshmrcxxx.top as sending domain. The example I saw was HMRC Business Help and Support Emails <email@example.com> with Riley Young as the officer mentioned in the email body . The rest of the email is as previously described.
hmrc_statement_062617_0349438.doc Current Virus total detections: Payload Security shows a download from http://184.108.40.206/load1.exe via PowerShell which currently is not responding
All the alleged senders, companies, names of employees, phone numbers, amounts, reference numbers etc. mentioned in the emails are all innocent and are just picked at random. Some of these companies will exist and some won’t.
Don’t try to respond by phone or email, all you will do is end up with an innocent person or company who have had their details spoofed and picked at random from a long list that the bad guys have previously found . The bad guys choose companies, Government departments and other organisations with subjects that are designed to entice you or alarm you into blindly opening the attachment or clicking the link in the email to see what is happening.
This email attachment contains what appears to be a genuine word doc or Excel XLS spreadsheet with either a macro script or an embedded OLE object that when run will infect you.
Modern versions of Microsoft office, that is Office 2010, 2013, 2016 and Office 365 should be automatically set to higher security to protect you.
By default protected view is enabled and macros are disabled, UNLESS you or your company have enabled them. If protected view mode is turned off and macros are enabled then opening this malicious word document will infect you, and simply previewing it in windows explorer or your email client might well be enough to infect you. Definitely DO NOT follow the advice they give to enable macros or enable editing to see the content.
Most of these malicious word documents either appear to be totally blank or look something like these images when opened in protected view mode, which should be the default in Office 2010, 2013, 2016 and 365. Some versions pretend to have a digital RSA key and say you need to enable editing and Macros to see the content. Do NOT enable Macros or editing under any circumstances.
What Can Be Infected By This
At this time, these malicious macros only infect windows computers. They do not affect a Mac, IPhone, IPad, Blackberry, Windows phone or Android phone.
The malicious word or excel file can open on any device with an office program installed, and potentially the macro will run on Windows or Mac or any other device with Microsoft Office installed. BUT the downloaded malware that the macro tries to download is windows specific, so will not harm, install or infect any other computer except a windows computer. You will not be infected if you do not have macros enabled in Excel or Word. These Macros do not run in “Office Online” Open Office, Libre Office, Word Perfect or any other office program that can read Word or Excel files.
Please read our How to protect yourselves page for simple, sensible advice on how to avoid being infected by this sort of socially engineered malware. Also please read our post about word macro malware and how to avoid being infected by them
Be very careful with email attachments. All of these emails use Social engineering tricks to persuade you to open the attachments that come with the email. It might be a simple message saying “look at this picture of me I took last night” that appears to come from a friend. It might be a scare ware message that will make you open the attachment to see what you are accused of doing.
Frequently it is more targeted at somebody ( small companies etc.) who regularly receive PDF attachments or Word .doc attachments or any other common file that you use every day, for example an invoice addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The basic rule is NEVER open any attachment to an email, unless you are expecting it. Now that is very easy to say but quite hard to put into practice, because we all get emails with files attached to them. Our friends and family love to send us pictures of them doing silly things, or even cute pictures of the children or pets. Many of us routinely get Word, Excel or PowerPoint attachments in the course of work or from companies that we already have a relationship with.
Never just blindly click on the file in your email program. Always save the file to your downloads folder, so you can check it first. A lot of malicious files that are attached to emails will have a faked extension. That is the 3 letters at the end of the file name.
Unfortunately windows by default hides the file extensions so you need to Set your folder options to “show known file types. Then when you unzip the zip file that is supposed to contain the pictures of “Sally’s dog catching a ball”, an invoice or receipt from some company for a product or service or receive a Word doc or Excel file report that work has supposedly sent you to finish working on at the weekend, you can easily see if it is a picture or document & not a malicious program. If you see JS or .EXE or .COM or .PIF or .SCR or .HTA .vbs, .wsf , .jse .jar at the end of the file name DO NOT click on it or try to open it, it will infect you.
With these malformed infected word, excel and other office documents that normally contain a vba macro virus, the vital thing is do not open any office document direct from your email client or the web. Always save the document to a safe location on your computer, normally your downloads folder or your documents folder and scan it with your antivirus.
Many Antiviruses do not natively detect vba macro-viruses in real time protection and you need to enable document or office protection in the settings. Do not rely on your Anti-Virus to immediately detect the malware or malicious content. DO NOT enable editing mode or enable macros
All modern versions of word and other office programs, that is 2010, 2013, 2016 and 365, should open all Microsoft office documents that is word docs, excel files and PowerPoint etc that are downloaded from the web or received in an email automatically in “protected view” that stops any embedded malware or macros from being displayed and running.
Make sure protected view is set in all office programs to protect you and your company from these sorts of attacks and do not over ride it to edit the document until you are 100% sure that it is a safe document. If the protected mode bar appears when opening the document DO NOT enable editing mode or enable macros the document will look blank or have a warning message, but will be safe.
Be aware that there are a lot of dodgy word docs spreading that WILL infect you with no action from you if you are still using an out dated or vulnerable version of word. This is a good reason to update your office programs to a recent version and stop using office 2003 and 2007.
Many of us have continued to use older versions of word and other office programs, because they are convenient, have the functions and settings we are used to and have never seen a need to update to the latest super-duper version. The risks in using older version are now seriously starting to outweigh the convenience, benefits and cost of keeping an old version going.
I strongly urge you to update your office software to the latest version and stop putting yourself at risk, using old out of date software.