Security researchers have observed various phishing scams aimed at World Cup fans leading up to and during the first week of the monthlong international soccer tournament. This targeted activity highlights the importance of security awareness and heightened vigilance around large-scale sporting events.

Analysts first detected the widespread phishing campaign when they discovered a rash of emails sent to soccer fans claiming to offer recipients a schedule of fixtures and results tracker for the tournament. Each of those emails used the subject line, “World_Cup_2018_Schedule_and_Scoresheet_V1.86_CB-DL-Manager,” and each came with a malware-laden attachment.

The malicious emails loaded up one of nine different executable files — and all of them dropped “DownloaderGuide” as its payload. A known malware variant, DownloaderGuide has a reputation for installing potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) onto victims’ computers. These applications include toolbars, search optimizers and adware.

Phishing Scams Abound at the World Cup

The researchers first detected the campaign on May 30. Although activity peaked on June 5, researchers discovered new instances of the operation in the days that followed. This social engineering campaign is only one of several targeting fans of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. IBM X-Force uncovered numerous attacks luring would-be victims with the prospect of winning prize money to be awarded by sponsors of the tournament.

As IBM noted in a recent report, those emails either came with a suspicious attachment or asked recipients to reply to a cybercriminal-controlled address, which would then enable the attackers to steal victims’ personal and financial information.

How Can World Cup Fans Protect Themselves?

Awareness is crucial for event cybersecurity. Phishing isn’t the only threat targeting World Cup fans. According to X-Force Incident Response and Intelligence Services (IRIS) analyst Camille Singleton, tournament attendees who connect to the internet via unsecured Wi-Fi are also at risk of malware and data theft. Bad actors could also compromise fans’ emails to launch stranded traveler scams in which they ask a victim’s friends and family to send money to attacker-controlled accounts.

“Whether for the purposes of information gathering or geopolitical intent to cause destruction or disruption, major sporting events continue to be a target for cybercriminals of all backgrounds,” said Wendi Whitmore, director at IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence. “Educating the public about the potential threat is an important element to improving the overall security of these events.”

Singleton noted that fans and organizations could defend themselves against World Cup-themed threats by keeping their devices up to date, blocking public Wi-Fi access and exercising caution around suspicious links and email attachments.

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