What is Emotet?

Emotet started life as a banking trojan in 2014; targeting financial information on victim computers. However, over the past five years, it has evolved into a botnet that can drop secondary payloads – most commonly delivered via malicious URLs in phishing emails. Whether it is spamming, information stealing, or DDoS, Emotet offers the perfect delivery mechanism. If there ever was a Swiss Army Knife of malware variants, it would be Emotet.

Because of its adaptability and prevalence, we predicted big things for Emotet in 2019, and so it’s performance this year hasn’t been a surprise. Such was its success in Q1 2019, it was reported that 61% of malicious payloads were distributed by Emotet. And then, in June, Emotet disappeared and has remained inactive – until last week.


Emotet Returns after Two-Month Break

Over the past two years there’s been a considerable increase in reporting and interest in Emotet. You can see in Figure 1 how mentions of the malware across blogs, chat messages, forums, pastes and other sources have increased since August 2017 – peaking in February 2019.

Mentions of Emotet over the past 24 months

Fig 1 – Mentions of Emotet over the past 24 months. Source: Digital Shadows


Much of Emotet’s success has been a result of the frequency of its updates, which have included:

  • July 2017: Emotet adds network proportions by brute-force cracking of credentials.
  • February 2018: Emotet begins leveraging Qakbot
  • October 2018: Emotet adds mass email exfiltration
  • February 2019: Emotet adds new delivery method to leverage xml files
  • March 2019: Emotet adds new evasion techniques


We do not yet know the reason for the two-month break in activity, although some have speculated that Emotet was taken offline to perform some new updates.


Three Ways to Track Updates to Emotet

Many of our banking clients have been keeping tabs on Emotet for several years. However, with Emotet’s expanding reach, this is now relevant to organizations of different sectors too. Within SearchLight, our digital risk protection service that protects clients against external threats, users can search for Emotet and return both finished intelligence and the raw data underlying it.  (Here’s 7 days free to try it out if interested).

You can see initial results for Emotet in Figure 2, which is filtered by “Latest First”.

Results from searching for Emotet in Shadow Search

Fig 2 – Results from searching for Emotet in Shadow Search.


There are three most popular avenues practitioners turn to in order to conduct further research into Emotet: parsing of IOCs, accessing finished intelligence, and setting up alerts.


  1. Parse latest IOCs

Searching for the term “Emotet” will initially provide results from a range of sources, including blogs posts, chat messages, dark web pages, forum posts, and paste sites. Filtering by ”Pastes” will reveal thousands of pages pertaining to Emotet Indicators of Compromise, as demonstrated in Figure 3. Clicking into the result itself (Figure 4), users are able to automatically parse different types of IOCs (IPs, MD5s, SHA1s, SHA256s, and Domains) and highlight these in yellow. At this stage users will be able to perform a bulk export.

To gain further context on each IOC, users can pivot off a given result and enrich their findings. In Figure 5, Shadow Search (SearchLight’s powerful search interface) has queried the hash against Cylance Infinity and Webroot.


Filtering Emotet results to “paste” source type

Fig 3 – Filtering Emotet results to “paste” source type


Parsing out IOC information within pastes

Fig 4 – Parsing out IOC information within pastes


Pivoting off IOCs to provide enrichment

Fig 5 – Pivoting off IOCs to provide enrichment


  1. Access finished intelligence

While digging into the weeds can be interesting, many security teams lack the time and resources to dedicate to this kind of research. As a result, users can also filter by intelligence incidents, which constitute a curated feed of intelligence developed by our team of in-house analysts.


Accessing finished intelligence from our analyst team

Fig 6 – Accessing finished intelligence from our analyst team


  1. Set up alerts

Third, we acknowledge that security and threat intel teams may not be able to continually spend time in our platform investigating threats. That’s why we enable users to set up alerts for set queries. By saving the query in the top right of the page, it’s then possible to configure alerts to be sent at given intervals. I’d personally recommend a “Daily” cadence of alerts for the term “Emotet”. Doing so will provide you with a roundup of all results pertaining to Emotet that day.

Setting up Shadow Search alert for Emotet

Fig 7 – Setting up Shadow Search alert for Emotet


See for yourself

Only time will tell how Emotet will evolve in the coming weeks and months, and what updates may or may not have been added, but it’s safe to assume that it will remain a real threat for organizations.

To stay up to date, you can access our threat intelligence, including all I’ve described above, for seven days within SearchLight Test Drive.

Test Drive Searchlight


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