Unusual sign-in activity mail goes phishing for Microsoft account holders

Christopher Boyd

Christopher Boyd

We’ve received an interesting spam email which (deliberately or not) could get people thinking about the current international crisis. Being on your guard will pay dividends over the coming days and weeks, as more of the below is sure to follow.

Unusual sign-in activity detected?

The email’s subject line, “Microsoft account unusual sign-in activity”, is always guaranteed to attract some attention. It continues:

Unusual sign-in activity

We detected something unusual about a recent sign-in to the Microsoft account

details

Country/region: Russia/Moscow

IP address:

Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2022 02:31:23 +0100

Platform: Kali Linux

Browser: Firefox

A user from Russia/Moscow just logged into your account from a new device, If this wasn’t you, please report the user. If this was you, we’ll trust similar activity in the future.

Report the user


The Microsoft account team

The mail provides a button to “report the user”, and an unsubscribe option. Should the recipient click the button, they’re not forwarded to a report page. Instead, it’s a Mailto: URI which opens a fresh email with a pre-filled message to be sent to a specific email account.

In this case, the email’s subject line is “Report the user”, while the phisher’s mail address claims to be some form of Microsoft account protection. They also managed to spell account wrong – “acount”. 

Don’t reply: report and delete

People sending a reply will almost certainly receive a request for login details, and possibly payment information, most likely via a bogus phishing page. It’s also entirely possible the scammers will keep everything exclusively to communication via email. Either way, people are at risk from losing control of their account to the phishers. The best thing to do is not reply, and delete the email.

Is this mail deliberately or accidentally referencing world events?

We have to be very clear here that anybody could have put this mail together, and may well not have anything to do with Russia directly. This is the kind of thing anyone anywhere can piece together in ten minutes flat, and mails of this nature have been bouncing around for years.

But, given current world events, seeing “unusual sign-in activity from Russia” is going to make most people do a double take, and it’s perfect spam bait material for that very reason.

While the mail explicitly targets Microsoft account holders, Outlook is flagging this missive and dropping it directly into the spam box. This probably isn’t something the mail creators need, quite frankly. However, this is great news for everybody else.

Miss it, miss out

Trying to panic people into hitting a button or click a link is an ancient social engineering tactic, but it sticks around because it works. We’ve likely all received a “bank details invalid”, or “mysterious payment rejected” message at one point or another.

Depending on personal circumstance and/or what’s happening in the world at any given moment, one person’s “big deal” is another one’s “oh no, my stuff”. That’s all it may take for some folks to lose their login, and this mail is perhaps more salient than most for the time being.