Spammers are targeting financial institutions using Excel Web Query (IQY) files that conceal a new downloader malware.

On Aug. 10, researchers at Proofpoint observed four large spam email campaigns. One of the campaigns carried undisguised IQY attachments with names such as “sales” and “major bank” to prey upon financial organizations. Two of the other operations passed around IQY files hidden within ZIP archives or embedded in PDF documents, while the other campaign used Microsoft Word documents containing malicious macros.

All of these attachments led to the same payload: Marap, a downloader malware that uses a custom application programming interface (API) hashing algorithm, timing checks and media access control (MAC) address comparisons to avoid analysis by security professionals. Marap has the ability to download other modules and payloads, including a fingerprinting plugin that steals and exfiltrates key system information.

Attackers Shift Focus to IQY Files

Marap isn’t the first malware to rely on IQY attachments for distribution. Trend Micro recently discovered a campaign in which Necurs, a botnet that has a history with malicious spam, used IQY file attachments to begin a PowerShell process and thereby download the backdoor FlawedAMMYY. Soon after making that observation, researchers at the Japanese security firm detected the Cutwail botnet leveraging IQY files to target Japanese users with BEBLOH or URSNIF malware.

Security researchers at Barkly noted that malware actors are increasingly turning to IQY files. These attachments appeal to digital attackers because they are capable of bypassing most filters and antivirus software, since Microsoft Excel can legitimately use this type of file format to download web data directly into a spreadsheet.

How Can Financial Companies Defend Against Malicious IQY Files?

Given the growing preference for IQY files among digital attackers, security professionals should update their firewalls and email filtering tools to block these attachments outright. Information security professionals should also use real-time threat intelligence sharing to stay informed of advanced threats like Marap.

Sources: Proofpoint, Trend Micro, Trend Micro(1), Barkly

More from

How to Spot a Nefarious Cryptocurrency Platform

Do you ever wonder if your cryptocurrency platform cashes in ransomware payments? Maybe not, but it might be worth investigating. Bitcoin-associated ransomware continues to plague companies, government agencies and individuals with no signs of letting up. And if your platform gets sanctioned, you may instantly lose access to all your funds. What exchanges or platforms do criminals use to cash out or launder ransomware payments? And what implications does this have for people who use exchanges legitimately? Blacklisted Exchanges and Mixers…

Are Threat Actors Using ChatGPT to Hack Your Network?

Though the technology has only been widely available for a couple of months, everyone is talking about ChatGPT. If you are one of the few people unfamiliar with ChatGPT, it is an OpenAI language model with the “ability to generate human-like text responses to prompts.” It could be a game-changer wherever AI meshes with human interaction, like chatbots. Some are even using it to build editorial content. But, as with any popular technology, what makes it great can also make…

Why Crowdsourced Security is Devastating to Threat Actors

Almost every day, my spouse and I have a conversation about spam. Not the canned meat, but the number of unwelcomed emails and text messages we receive. He gets several nefarious text messages a day, while I maybe get one a week. Phishing emails come in waves — right now, I’m getting daily warnings that my AV software license is about to expire. Blocking or filtering has limited success and, as often as not, flags wanted rather than unwanted messages.…

Bridging the 3.4 Million Workforce Gap in Cybersecurity

As new cybersecurity threats continue to loom, the industry is running short of workers to face them. The 2022 (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study identified a 3.4 million worldwide cybersecurity worker gap; the total existing workforce is estimated at 4.7 million. Yet despite adding workers this past year, that gap continued to widen. Nearly 12,000 participants in that study felt that additional staff would have a hugely positive impact on their ability to perform their duties. More hires would boost proper…