Everything You Need To Know About Cryptojacking

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Everything You Need To Know About Cryptojacking

Cryptojacking is one of the darker aspects of the cryptocurrency industry. Involving crypto mining, this process sees cybercriminals assuming control of a mining rig‘s processing power and deflect its operations for their own benefit.

What is Cryptojacking and How does it Work?

what is cryptojacking?
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The broad definition of Cryptojacking is when an individual or group use the victim’s computing power to mine cryptocurrencies without their consent. The more sophisticated this attack is, the harder it is for a victim to even realise that the attack is taking place.

Unfortunately, Cryptojacking has quickly grown to become one of the most common and successful forms of malware. Unlike most attacks which target user data or access, this type focuses solely on processing power. Just like normal crypto mining, the purpose of the attack remains to mine Bitcoin or Ethereum. The only difference is that the newly mined coins are settled in the hacker’s wallet, not the one which belongs to the owner of the rig.

While fiat currency cannot be recreated genuinely, cryptocurrencies are different. Their democratic structure allows anyone with sufficient computing power to mint new coins. With the rise in popularity of cryptocurrencies, it was inevitable that cybercriminals would seek ways to benefit from mining.

In order to Cryptojack a device, these hackers utilise several techniques. The most popular method involves making use of proven traditional tricks, such as sending malware via an email link or attachment. Clicking or opening this malware automatically installs the mining code into the rig. If the installation is successful, the rig is automatically set to deposit new crypto to the attacker’s wallet.

A less popular method is called “drive-by crypto mining”. A JavaScript code is embedded in a seemingly innocent website, but every time a machine visits this page, a mining process activates.

Tests and research carried out by several cryptocurrency websites have shown that Cryptojacking is on the rise. It is estimated that over 33,000 websites are a victim of the “drive-by crypto mining” attack, counting around a billion monthly users. Coinhive and Cryptoloot seem to be the most popular JavaScript miners in these attacks, although, it should be noted, that these programs are popular also amongst genuine crypto miners.

The two main reasons behind the popularity of Cryptojacking are profits and ease of entry. With limited technical abilities, hackers can start a very enterprising attack with huge rewards. There are even kits available on the dark web for those who wish to get involved. At the same time, awareness about Cryptojacking is limited, especially amongst potential victims, increasing the chances that an attack remains unnoticed for extended periods of time.

At the moment, Cryptojacking is seen as low-risk for high rewards. Ransomware, for example, might result in a 5% success rate, but Cryptojacking can result in up to 100% success rates. Moreover, while Ransomware attacks are paid out once, Cryptojacking’s rewards are continuous.

To make matters worse, even when an attack is identified, the probability of identifying the ultimate beneficiary of the attack is close to impossible. These attacks normally involve more anonymous cryptocurrencies, such as Monero or Zcash, over the more popular, yet less anonymous Bitcoin or Ethereum. Victims, too, are reluctant to press on investigations, since technically the attack did not result in any asset being stolen.

How do People Use Cryptocurrencies?

For the past five years, the use of cryptocurrencies has increased dramatically across the globe. No longer seen as just a novelty, digital currencies are set to revolutionise the payments and banking industry. Numerous major brands are involving this technology in their processes, and the number of new cryptocurrency projects, such as Project Libra, are on the rise.

There are over 1,000 different cryptocurrencies today, although the top 20 account for the majority of trading and interest. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Bitcoin Cash are amongst the most popular cryptocurrencies and are available in many exchanges. Moreover, due to the high volatility of cryptocurrencies, they are also a popular trading market.

Screenshots are shown for illustration purposes only. Actual product may vary.

Apart from trading cryptocurrencies, traders trade Contracts for Difference (CFDs), which allow them to profit from cryptocurrencies without actually owning them.

Apart from using it to trade or to HODL, an increasing number of people use cryptocurrencies to buy goods and services online, as well as gamble. 

Real-world Cryptojacking Examples

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of Cryptojacking case studies to study and learn from. The following are a few of the most successful.

MinerGate

A particular MinerGate malware attack features a creative alternation to the code family. This feature variant is capable of noticing when there is mouse movement and immediately suspending Cryptojacking activity. This not only makes it harder for the victim to notice anything unusual, such as a drop in performance but makes it virtually impossible to check for the possibility of a hack.

Bank’s Rogue Staffer

A European bank was experiencing unusual processing power consumption during the night. The bank’s diagnostic tools were not able to pick up any malware, yet there was evidence of slower performance. Eventually, outsourced professionals were able to uncover a subtle process which would engage at night. This process was enabled through a code installed by a rogue staffer.

GitHub

The popular website, GitHub, became an unwilling host of a Cryptojacking attack. Hackers would identify legitimate projects and create forks, which hold the malware hidden in their directory structure. By using a phishing mechanism, these attackers were able to lure their victims to download the malware. These mechanisms took many forms, such as requiring a Flash player update or offering a special adult content game.

Protecting your Resources from Cryptojacking

Since Cryptojacking involves the installation of malware, it can be very difficult to detect once installed. In fact, the most probable way of uncovering an intrusion is by noticing a sudden slow down in processing power. In a larger organisation, the effects of a successful attack may not appear until a system administrator notices that particular network servers are operating at maximum capacity. Once it reaches this stage, it can be very difficult and slow to run troubleshooting tools.

Therefore, the best way for you to protect your hardware against Cryptojacking is preventing a successful attack. Standard firewalls may not be able to effectively protect your systems. Larger organisations should definitely invest in advanced intrusion prevention systems and next-generation firewalls. It may, however, not be feasible for smaller businesses or individuals to cover the costs for such systems, so increased vigilance and ensuring that the firewall is updated are a must.

Should you discover an attack or notice the symptoms of one, you need to take the necessary steps to conduct a root-cause analysis. This helps identify malware and helps prevent repeat attacks in the future.

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