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Netskope Threat Coverage: The Return of Emotet

Nov 18 2021

Co-authored by Gustavo Palazolo and Ghanashyam Satpathy


At the beginning of 2021, Emotet was considered to be the world’s most dangerous malware by Europol. The threat was first discovered in 2014 when it was acting as a banking trojan. Over the years, the malware evolved into one of the most relevant botnets in the threat landscape, often used to deliver other threats, such as Trickbot and Ryuk ransomware. Netskope detected Emotet during Oct 2020, using PowerShell and WMI to download and execute its payload.

After massive collaboration between law enforcement agencies around the world, Emotet was taken down in January 2021, where the malware’s infrastructure was disrupted from the inside. This was extremely important, as infected machines were redirected towards law enforcement-controlled infrastructure, preventing further actions from Emotet’s threat actors.

After almost a year, Emotet (a.k.a. Geodo, Heodo) was spotted again in the wild, being delivered by Trickbot. This new campaign is being tracked by MalwareBazaar / Feodo Tracker, where we can see an increase since November 15, 2021.

Emotet tracker from MalwareBazaar.
Screenshot of Emotet tracker from MalwareBazaar.

In this threat coverage, we will analyze a malicious Microsoft Office document from a set of files that are delivering the new Emotet payload.


Once we open the document, we can see a fake message that lures the victim into enabling the macros, by clicking the “Enable Editing” and “Enable Content” buttons.

Example of a malicious document that delivers Emotet.
Malicious document that delivers Emotet.

The threat actors protected the VBA project with a password to prevent viewing the macro in the VBA editor, likely to slow down analysis.

Example of a protected VBA project.
Protected VBA project.

After bypassing this protection, we can see that the document contains an obfuscated macro code.

Example of macro code executed by the document.
Macro code executed by the document.

There are a few functions that are not used at all, possibly added as decoys. The main code is triggered by the “Document_Open()” function.

Screenshot of function triggered once the document is opened.
Function triggered once the document is opened.

By looking at the function called by this entry point, we can see the threat actors attempt to hide a PowerShell script by using string concatenation and replace, which can all be easily removed.

The VBA code goal is to execute a PowerShell script, that basically iterates over a URL list, and tries to download the content into “C:\ProgramData\”.

Screenshot of prettyfied PowerShell script executed by the malicious document.
Prettyfied PowerShell script executed by the malicious document.

Once an online URL is found, Emotet’s DLL is written into the disk with a random name, for example: “C:\ProgramData\1856230245.dll”.

At the time of our analysis, three of the URLs were offline.

Screenshot of Online and Offline URLs from Emotet’s document.
Online and Offline URLs from Emotet’s document.

The downloaded file is a 32-bit DLL, and although this information is not 100% reliable, it looks like the file was compiled on November 16, 2021.

Screenshot of Emotet’s payload downloaded by the malicious document.
Emotet’s payload downloaded by the malicious document.

The final payload is another DLL, which is unpacked and executed in memory by the downloaded file.

Example of Emotet being unpacked in memory.
Emotet being unpacked in memory.

Once running, Emotet starts the communication with its C2 servers.

Emotet C2 communication.
Emotet C2 communication.

At the moment of this analysis, there are 19 online servers linked to Emotet.


Netskope Threat Labs is actively monitoring this campaign and has ensured coverage for all known threat indicators and payloads. 

  • Netskope Threat Protection
    • Document-Word.Trojan.Emotet
    • Win32.Trojan.Emotet
  • Netskope Advanced Threat Protection provides proactive coverage against this threat.
    • Gen.Malware.Detect.By.StHeur indicates a sample that was detected using static analysis
    • Gen.Malware.Detect.By.Sandbox indicates a sample that was detected by our cloud sandbox


Emotet Document Hashes 











The full list of IOCs analyzed in this campaign can be found in our Git repository.

author image
Gustavo Palazolo
Gustavo Palazolo is an expert in malware analysis, reverse engineering and security research, working many years in projects related to electronic fraud protection. He is currently working on the Netskope Research Team, discovering and analyzing new malware threats.

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