By Cobi Aloia, Cofense Phishing Defense Center
Google is generally regarded as a safe space since it offers a variety of services that cater to businesses and individuals across the globe, with the primary service being a search engine. Because of its reputation and wide use, typical antivirus and email security solutions – such as secure email gateways (SEGs) – do not tend to block or limit functionality within Google’s domain since they typically block URLs at the domain or subdomain level. The Cofense Phishing Defense Center (PDC) actively analyzes threats reported by well-conditioned users that bypass SEGs; this has given us insight into how Google Translate is being used to spread crimeware.
Figure 1: Email Body
In Figure 1, the body of this email raises questions, as the threat actor mentions a document being shared via Google Drive and the “from” address comes from a seemingly legitimate website. This tactic, along with the subject, “firstname.lastname@example.org has shared a file with you,” is commonly seen with most phish the PDC analyzes. As seen with the link preview in Figure 1, the Google Drive hyperlink in the body instead goes to a Google Translate link. The Google Drive branding for the hyperlink makes sense given the context of the subject and body since it is a file sharing platform, so it helps play into the deception of the phish. The Google Drive URL itself is a link to a picture of the company logo matching that of the spoofed “from” address. This is another common technique for spoofing.
Figure 2: Phishing Page
As seen in Figure 2, the page contains a background image depicting a blurred-out Microsoft Excel document, with a pop-up prompting for email address and password. When looking at it closely, this is most likely a poor attempt at a Microsoft phish despite the email claiming to be a Google Drive document. This is evident from the UI structure of the background image which matches Microsoft’s Excel software and not Google’s counterpart, Sheets. Once credentials are entered, the payload is sent to the website contained in the Google Translate URL (digigage[.]club).
Figure 3: Cofense Example
With the ability to essentially pass attacks through Google’s infrastructure, threat actors are greatly decreasing the chance that their threats are blocked or flagged by security systems such as SEGs, and they’re boosting their ability to successfully land in the inbox to the user’s detriment. Figure 3 highlights another way this exploit can be employed. Using the URL, Example, we are led to a page similar to that of Figure 2, but instead of the blurry Excel spreadsheet, the homepage for cofensestaging.wpengine.com is presented. By copying a link from the Cofense homepage seen in the aforementioned example, we can see that the domain is cofense-com.translate.goog instead of cofensestaging.wpengine.com. By using this tactic, threat actors can display a replica of their malicious websites, which can then be used as another way to avoid SEG detection.
The tactic shown is a troublesome flaw within Google’s services that threat actors have taken advantage of and leveraged for deception and obfuscation. These methods underscore vulnerabilities of SEGs and other email security solutions for which blacklisting and mitigation become a tedious, and perhaps ineffective, means of threat management. This is where Cofense comes in. Cofense is in the unique position to provide organizations solutions to mitigate phishing threats that have made it past the SEGs and into users’ inboxes. Cofense provides Managed Phishing and Defense that enables enterprises to benefit from our complete view of, and advanced technology against, ever-evolving phishing threats. Contact us to learn more.
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