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LNK's Awakening: Cybercriminals Moving from Macros to Shortcut Files to Access Business PCs
[August 15, 2022]

LNK's Awakening: Cybercriminals Moving from Macros to Shortcut Files to Access Business PCs

PALO ALTO, Calif., Aug. 15, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) today issued its quarterly Threat Insights Report revealing that a wave of cybercriminals spreading malware families – including QakBot, IceID, Emotet, and RedLine Stealer – are shifting to shortcut (LNK) files to deliver malware. Shortcuts are replacing Office macros – which are starting to be blocked by default in Office – as a way for attackers to get a foothold within networks by tricking users into infecting their PCs with malware. This access can be used to steal valuable company data, or sold on to ransomware groups, leading to large-scale breaches that could stall business operations and result in significant remediation costs.

The latest global HP Wolf Security Threat Insights Report – which provides analysis of real-world cyberattacks – shows an 11% rise in archive files containing malware, including LNK files. Attackers often place shortcut files in ZIP email attachments, to help them evade email scanners. The team also spotted LNK malware builders available for purchase on hacker forums, making it easy for cybercriminals to shift to this “macro-free” code execution technique by creating weaponized shortcut files and spreading them to businesses.

“As macros downloaded from the web become blocked by default in Office, we’re keeping a close eye on alternative execution methods being tested out by cybercriminals. Opening a shortcut or HTML file may seem harmless to an employee but can result in a major risk to the enterprise,” explains Alex Holland, Senior Malware Analyst, HP Wolf Security threat research team, HP Inc. “Organizations must take steps now to protect against techniques increasingly favored by attackers or leave themselves exposed as they become pervasive. We’d recommend immediately blocking shortcut files received as email attachments or downloaded from the web where possible.”

By isolating threats on PCs that have evaded detection tools, HP Wolf Security has specific insight into the latest techniques being used by cybercriminals. In addition to the increase in LNK files, the threat research team have highlighted the following insights this quarter:

The findings are based on data from millions of endpoints running HP Wolf Security. HP Wolf Security runs risky tasks like opening email attachments, downloading files and clicking links in isolated, micro-virtual machines (micro-VMs) to protect users, capturing detailed traces of attempted infections. HP’s application isolation technology mitigates threats that can slip past other security tools, and provides unique insights into novel intrusion techniques and threat actor behavior. To date, HP customers have clicked on over 18 billion email attachments, web pages, and downloaded files with no reported breaches.

Further key findings in the report include:

  • 14% of email malware captured by HP Wolf Security bypassed at least one email gateway scanner.
  • Threat actors used 593 different malware families in their attempts to infect organizations, compared to 545 in the previous quarter.
  • Spreadsheets remained the top malicious file type, but the threat research team saw an 11% rise in archive threats – suggesting attackers are increasingly placing files in archive files before sending them in order to evade detection.
  • 69% of malware detected was delivered via email, while web downloads were responsible for 17%.
  • The most common phishing lures were business transactions such as “Order”, “Payment”, “Purchase”, “Request” and “Invoice”.

“Attackers are testing new malicious file formats or exploits at pace to bypass detection, so organizations must prepare for the unexpected. This means taking an architectural approach to endpoint security, for example by containing the most common attack vectors like email, browsers, and downloads, so threats are isolated regardless of whether they can be detected,” comments Dr. Ian Pratt, Global Head of Security for Personal Systems, HP Inc. “This will eliminate the attack surface for entire classes of threats, while also giving the organization the time needed to coordinate patch cycles securely without disrupting services.”

About the data

This data was anonymously gathered within HP Wolf Security customer virtual machines from April-June 2022.

About HP

HP Inc. is a technology company that believes one thoughtful idea has the power to change the world. Its product and service portfolio of personal systems, printers, and 3D printing solutions helps bring these ideas to life. Visit

About HP Wolf Security

HP Wolf Security is a new breed1 of endpoint security. HP’s portfolio of hardware-enforced security and endpoint-focused security services are designed to help organizations safeguard PCs, printers, and people from circling cyber predators. HP Wolf Security provides comprehensive endpoint protection and resiliency that starts at the hardware level and extends across software and services. Visit

©Copyright 2022 HP Development Company, L.P. The information contained herein is subject to change without notice. The only warranties for HP products and services are set forth in the express warranty statements accompanying such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. HP shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein.

1 HP Security is now HP Wolf Security. Security features vary by platform, please see product data sheet for details.

Media contact:
Vanessa Godsal / [email protected]

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