What exactly is Cryptojacking? How to Recognize and Prevent It

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Cryptojacking use malware to convert thousands of computers into cryptocurrency miners without the owners’ knowledge. Here’s how you can counteract it.

Every now and then, a report emerges about a firm, hospital, or government institution that has been infected by ransomware—that is, software that restricts access to a network of computers until a ransom is paid to the hackers behind the assault, typically in difficult-to-trace cryptocurrency.

Cryptojacking, on the other hand, does not garner nearly as many headlines, owing in large part to the fact that many people are unaware that it is taking on. Cryptojacking is essentially the illicit exploitation of someone’s computer or network of computers to covertly mine cryptocurrencies, earning the attackers money by consuming resources that they are not paying for. Multiply it by hundreds, if not tens of thousands, and there’s a lot of money to be earned for attackers.

Cryptojacking, while not as visible or obtrusive as other malware and ransomware schemes, can have a negative impact on your computer’s performance and lifetime, as well as your energy expenses. It may also point to holes in your device security that could lead to more disruptive attacks. Here’s what you need to know.

What is cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is the process by which a remote attacker successfully instals a script on a computer, smartphone, or cloud server infrastructure, allowing it to mine bitcoin using that device’s computing capabilities. Mining bitcoin is a procedure that generally necessitates strong computers and, because to the high energy expenses, might be more expensive than it is worth—that is, if you are the one paying the bills.

Attackers can employ cryptojacking to mine cryptocurrency, gain from the coin mined in the process, and avoid the costs of acquiring (and maintaining) expensive hardware and high energy bills by tapping into a dispersed network of infected devices.

 

How does cryptojacking work?

You must have the mining software installed on your device for attackers to use it for cryptojacking. This often occurs via phishing emails that trick users into downloading a file that they think is safe, but is actually malware that is maliciously designed to hijack your computer’s resources without your knowledge.

In some cases, malicious websites may have hidden scripts that can use your computer for mining while you visit them, a process called “drive-by cryptojacking.”

When your computer is infected and an attacker gains remote control of it, you may notice it operating slower than usual or hear the fan running more frequently than usual. This is due to the fact that mining is a resource-intensive activity that might impair your capacity to utilise your computer or phone to its full potential.

Monero (XMR) has become the most popular coin for cryptojacking due to its difficult-to-trace, privacy-centric design and relative simplicity of mining (at least when compared to Bitcoin).

In early 2020, a Monero-mining cryptojacking botnet was detected on a US Department of Defense web server.

How common is cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is quite common. Because cryptojacking is designed to be covert, with the software running behind the scenes for as long as possible to maximise the assault, it is hard to get a good idea of the worldwide scope of cryptojacking.

However, consider some of these reports from security firms. Citrix reported in August 2018 that three in 10 businesses in the UK reported being affected by cryptojacking attacks within the last month, and 59% of respondents saying they had been impacted by it at some point. SonicWall reported that victims were attacked by cryptojacking scripts some 52.7 million times in the first half of 2019. And Symantec found that the prevalence of cryptojacking changes as the value of cryptocurrencies fluctuates—something to bear in mind during a crypto bull run.

Guardicore Labs published a study in August 2020 on the Monero-mining FritzFrog, a “new generation of peer-to-peer botnets” that seeks to brute-force its way onto systems using different known flaws. According to the study, FritzFrog had hacked over 500 systems, including colleges in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as a railway business, and had attempted to break into “tens of millions of IP addresses” belonging to government organisations and others.

In summary, because attack tactics are changing and adapting, cryptojacking is unlikely to end very soon.

What are the risks associated with cryptojacking?

While cryptojacking may not be as obviously disruptive as other forms of malware or hacking, there are various impacts on affected device owners. When infected with crypto-mining malware, your computer or phone may operate slowly and be unable to complete tasks at their normal speed, while impacted servers may be unable to keep up with their typical demands.

Forcing your computer to operate at a high level consumes more energy, thus increasing your power bill, and can wear down your gadgets quicker than normal. Furthermore, if your computer has been hacked by cryptojacking software, it may be vulnerable to other, potentially more serious and deadly assaults.

How can I defend myself against cryptojacking?

The most essential thing you can do is keep your computer or device up to date with the latest operating system security patches and updates, and if you use antivirus or anti-malware software, keep it up to date with the latest patches on a regular basis.

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Monitor your CPU use using the operating system tools to attempt to discover suspicious programmes that might signify cryptojacking if your machine is suddenly running sluggish or kicking on the fan a lot more than normal.

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