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All About Cryptomining and Why You Should Care

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in SecurityDecember 24, 2020

Cryptocurrencies are all the rage these days, but not everyone is aware of what they are, how they work, and how cryptomining and cryptojacking fits into the mix, and how it can affect them. 

What is Cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency. It does not exist anywhere except online and cannot be found in physical form (dollars and coins). Although there are more than 1,000 types, the most common are Bitcoin, Monero, and Ethereum. Bitcoin is the one that started it all and probably the most well known.

As cryptocurrency is exchanged, the transactions are recorded in a process called “blockchain.” Basically, it is a technology that acts as a digital register of all transactions. Then these transactions are verified by a process called cryptomining. 

Cryptocurrency cannot be used twice, it is limited, and there is only so much available. It is also untraceable and therefore widely used by cybercriminals when demanding ransom or fraud. Many legitimate investors own cryptocurrency; however, it is also used for criminal activity. 

What is Cryptomining?

Cryptomining is the process of verifying the transactions in a blockchain. It requires massive computing power and complex mathematical calculations, and the miners are rewarded with a small amount of cryptocurrency. The process is entirely legal, and there is no bank or government agency keeping track of the transactions or miners.

Cryptomining Malware and Cryptojacking

Because cryptomining requires so much computing power, cybercriminals use malware to link your innocent devices to networks boosting the power of their cryptomining operations. If infected, your computer, cell phone, or other devices may become part of an illegal cryptomining system hackers use to profit. The more cryptocurrency they mine, the more they make. 

When your device is taken over and used for this type of activity, it is often called cryptojacking. Hackers can target many different types of systems, including devices using Android and Windows operating systems. 

Cryptojacking is when someone uses your computer or device to process cryptocurrency transactions illegally. Victims usually notice unusual slowdowns and performance lags. The software works in the background, and most people wouldn’t even be aware of it until their system crashes or some other indication illustrates a problem. 

How to Detect if Your Computer or Device is Being Used for Cryptomining

Cryptomining uses a lot of system resources due to the complex math calculations; therefore, if your device is infected, it may operate a lot more slowly. It may struggle to open apps and programs may even crash. 

The most common way thieves get this malware onto your device is through phishing emails. If you click a link or open an attachment, you may download and infect your system with malicious software. If you download software from untrusted sources, it can happen that way also. 

Malware is quite common. In 2018, hackers infected the Google ad network with cryptomining malware to harness the power of the network. These ads looked like legitimate YouTube ads. Malicious ads, even those found in social media, are other ways hackers deliver their malware to victims. 

What Does Cryptojacking Malware Do?

According to CSO Online, some malware will actually work to increase the network by infecting other devices, while some of it performs cryptocurrency mining processes. 

CSO Online explains, “Hackers often will use both methods to maximize their return. “Attacks use old malware tricks to deliver more reliable and persistent software [to the victims’ computers] as a fall back,” says Alex Vaystikh, CTO and co-founder of SecBI. For example, of 100 devices mining cryptocurrencies for a hacker, 10% might be generating income from code on the victims’ machines, while 90% do so through their web browsers.”

Some parts of the malware act as worms spreading from device to device or computers across a network, further expanding the hacker’s capabilities. If the user’s device is already infected, the malware may disable itself and allow the other version to run. 

The good news other than slow down the device and infect other computers, cryptojacking software is not damaging in any other way. It does not steal data or interrupt any other processes. 

How to Keep Yourself Safe

Knowing about cryptojacking and the dangers are the first step to preventing it. After that, some other tips include:

  • Watch out for phishing emails. Even those that look legitimate may be scams designed to infect your device. Never click a link in an email or download attachments.
  • Never install software from untrusted sources. 
  • Be very careful when clicking on ads that you see online. 
  • Install ad blockers and anti-cryptomining extensions to your browser.
  • Keep all your devices updated with the latest security patches.
  • Use antivirus/anti-malware software on all your devices.
  • Use strong, long passwords everywhere.
  • Disable macros in MS Excel and Word.
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