Here is how Microsoft wants you to stay safe from tax themed phishing and malware attacks

Tax season is officially upon us here in the United States, and unfortunately, this means that taxed themed scams and social engineering attacks are also on the rise. From phishing emails with click bait attacks, fake emailed receipts for filed taxes, and more, career cyber criminals and phishers are becoming every so more smart with their tactics at this time of year.

Luckily, Microsoft is here to protect you, as the company recently published a blog post which raised awareness about these types of attacks, and how you can keep yourself safe.

There are five specific phishing attacks which are highlighted by Microsoft, most of which target residents in the United Kingdom, the United States, and India. Leading the list is the “You are eligible!” tax refund email, which targets those who are looking for more information about the status of their tax refund.

According to Microsoft, these emails pretend to come from official government bureaus, but in reality, aim to get you to click on a link to a fraudulent website which will ask you to fill your sensitive information. To protect yourself, Microsoft recommends for you to turn on Microsoft SmartScreen, which will automatically block access to these phishing sites.

A phisisng email

Similarly, the second type of phishing attack occurs when a cyber criminal sends you a fake receipt that your taxes have been filed.  Here, the cyber criminal includes a message in the body of the email, and attaches a .zip file which appears harmless, but is actually a banking Trojan that will log all keystrokes and send it to an attacker. To protect yourself from this type of attack, Microsoft recommends for you to enable Windows Defender Antivirus. With this, you will be able to detect malware that arrives via email messages using tax filing as bait.

receipt for taxes filed
Fake receipt for taxes filed

Another on the list of tax-related phishing attacks are threatening emails which try to attack your emotions. Covered in these areas are emails which warn of overdue taxes, and may force unsuspecting taxpayers to forcefully click on a link to "take action immediately." Similarly, the fourth type of phishing attack involves fear, and tells email recipients that there’s pending IRS and law enforcement action against them. With this type of attack, the attacker gets the taxpayer to download and open a Word document, and enable editing to exit protected view. Unfortunately, when Enable Editing is clicked, malicious macros in the document download a malware which will then connect to a remote host and download other malware.

Tax evasion: “Subpoena from IRS”
Tax evasion: “Subpoena from IRS”

Last up is a phishing attack which may strike early in the tax filing season. This type of attack targets accountants in the U.S. and pretends to be coming from somebody seeking the services of a CPA. Again, the email will include a Word document attachment, which when opened will run prompt the accountant with a fake message box to enable Macros in Word. The message is designed to look like a part of Word, and when the Macro is enabled, the malicious macro downloads a malware which will log keystrokes, monitor the applications you open, and track your web browsing history.

Ultimately, the key to staying safe from these type of attacks is to stay cautious, aware, and not fall victim to threatening emails, since you can detect fake emails if you know what to look for. You also can keep your computer up to date and use the built-in security features of Windows 10 (such as Device Guard and Windows Defender) to keep the phishing attacks in the sea of the web. And, as always, we invite you to drop us a comment below with any other tips you may have when it comes to keeping safe during Tax season.

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