This blog post was authored by Jérôme Segura and Hossein Jazi.

The 2020 US elections have been the subject of intense scrutiny and emotions, while happening in the middle of a global pandemic. As election night ended and uncertainty regarding the results began to creep in, threat actors decided to jump in on it too.

Those tracking the threat landscape know very well that major world events do not go unnoticed by criminals. In this case, we began observing a new spam campaign delivering malicious attachments that exploit doubts about the election process.

The QBot banking Trojan operators return with yet another themed spam wave using the same hijacked email thread technique enticing victims with malicious election interference attachments.

Hijacked email threads pushing bogus DocuSign documents

The malicious emails come as thread replies, similar to what Emotet does to add legitimacy and make detection harder. They contain zip attachments aptly named ElectionInterference_[8 to 9 digits].zip.

While the election results are still being evaluated and debated, victims are enticed to open up the document to read about alleged election interference:

Figure 1: Malicious email with ElectionInterference attachment

The extracted file is an Excel spreadsheet that has been crafted as if it were a secure DocuSign file. Users are tricked to allow macros in order to ‘decrypt’ the document.

Figure 2: Excel document containing malicious macro

This tried and tested trick will download a malicious payload onto the victim’s machine. The URL for that payload is encoded in a cell of a Cyrillic-named sheet “Лист3”.

Figure 3: Payload URL obfuscation

Once executed, the QBot Trojan will contact its command and control server and request instructions. In addition to stealing and exfiltrating data from its victims, QBot will also start grabbing emails that will later be used as part of the next malspam campaigns.

Figure 4: QBot process flow execution

World events are the best lure

At the core of the malware attacks we witness each day are typical social engineering schemes. Threat actors need to get victims to perform a certain set of actions in order to compromise them.

Spam campaigns routinely abuse email delivery notifications (Fedex, DHL, etc.) or bank alerts to disguise malicious payloads. But world events such as the Covid pandemic or the US elections provide ideal material to craft effective schemes resulting in high infection ratios.

Malwarebytes users were already protected against this attack thanks to our Anti-Exploit technology. Additionally, we detect the payload as Backdoor.Qbot.

Figure 5: Malwarebytes blocking the macro from delivering its payload

Indicators of Compromise

Malicious Excel documents





QBot C2s


MITRE ATT&CK techniques

ExecutionT1059Command-Line InterfaceStarts CMD.EXE for commands execution
T1106Execution through APIApplication launched itself
T1053Scheduled TaskLoads the Task Scheduler COM API
PersistenceT1050New ServiceExecuted as Windows Service
T1060Registry Run Keys / Startup FolderChanges the autorun value in the registry
T1053Scheduled TaskLoads the Task Scheduler COM API
Privilege EscalationT1050New ServiceExecuted as Windows Service
T1055Process InjectionApplication was injected by another process
T1053Scheduled TaskLoads the Task Scheduler COM API
Defense EvasionT1553Install Root CertificateChanges settings of System certificates
T1055Process InjectionApplication was injected by another process
DiscoveryT1087Account DiscoveryStarts NET.EXE to view/change users group
T1135Network Share DiscoveryStarts NET.EXE for network exploration
T1069Permission Groups DiscoveryStarts NET.EXE to view/change users group
T1012Query RegistryReads the machine GUID from the registry
T1018Remote System DiscoveryStarts NET.EXE for network exploration
T1082System Information DiscoveryReads the machine GUID from the registry
T1016System Network Configuration DiscoveryUses IPCONFIG.EXE to discover IP address