Similar to how cybercriminals jumped on the COVID-19 and used the pandemic as a useful phishing lure, attackers are exploiting the Ukraine crisis to conduct email-based donation scams, deploy malware and steal credentials.
According to email security firm Tessian, researchers are seeing Ukrainian-themed phishing emails skyrocket, with new domains containing “Ukraine” up more than 200% from last year, with an average of 315 new domains with the besieged country’s name in it registered each day since Feb. 24. The vast majority of those are deemed to be suspicious based on early indicators, the company says.
In a report, Tessian shows that the number of Ukraine-related domains started picking up in February with about 2,500, but then exploded as the Russian invasion of its neighbor matured into March, when there were more than 6,000 such domains registered.
Further analysis of phishing emails flagged by the company shows an upward trend beginning in late February, declining a bit after the first week in March, and then again in early-to-mid March as the Ukraine crisis unfolded.
Much of the exploitation of the crisis is by fraudsters seeking donations purportedly for humanitarian aid causes, such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, Actalliance and the Australian Council for International Affairs. Emails contain logos, messaging and branding associated with those organizations to trick users into believing the emails are legitimate.
The threat actors in these cases are largely requested donations be made in Bitcoin. Some emails even contain QR codes designed to make it easier to send donations that open locally installed payment apps that support Bitcoin.
Other scams are sent from newly registered domains impersonating legitimate organizations, such as the Red Cross in Ukraine. Emails contain links to convincing websites, some of which have links to addresses for cryptocurrency wallets for Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tether.
Tessian also details spam campaigns that send links to fraudulent e-commerce sites that push the sale of t-shirts and other items with slogans in support of Ukraine.
If you run across these domains, steer clear of them, Tessian says:
Tessian advises users to be cautious of any emails claiming to solicit donations to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Some charities do accept donations made in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, so be extra vigilant when those come to the inbox, the company says.