Cybercrime continues to grow, with one of the latest developments being highly sophisticated cryptocurrency-mining malware that can cause significant damage. Cryptocurrencies are virtual currencies that use cryptography for security.
One of the main differences between cryptocurrencies and traditional banking is the decentralization of control over currency production. Unlike fiat money issued by central banks, cryptocurrencies are not controlled by anyone.
Cryptocurrency mining software is used legitimately by those who want to buy and sell cryptocurrency and those who wish to support the decentralized blockchain transaction validation process. In the latter case, they are rewarded with newly created cryptocurrencies for successfully supporting the underlying blockchain.
Cryptocurrency miners can be individuals or organizations that have harnessed many computers. The higher the network hash rate, the more difficult it is to successfully add new blocks to the blockchain.
Therefore, this, in turn, means that cryptocurrency-mining malware has become very popular over the past couple of years. Criminals who infect thousands of systems with this type of malware can generate large profits by either selling the coins they mine or using them for other nefarious purposes. A crypto mining farm can come in handy in mining crypto.
Cryptocurrency Mining Attracted Cybercriminals
The number of systems infected with cryptocurrency-mining malware more than doubled in 2017 compared with 2016, and this trend does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. That means that more criminals are getting into the business of mining cryptocurrency, even if they are doing it for nefarious purposes.
According to research, there were 441,000 computers infected with mining malware in the second quarter of 2017 alone, compared to 340,000 in 2016. The number of infections involving mobile devices also soared in the last year.
Most cryptocurrency-mining malware attacks targeted Windows devices, with about 85% of all infections involving this operating system. Still, there has also been a sharp increase in mining attacks on macOS using similar techniques. Linux devices are also at risk, although to a lesser degree.
The reason criminals love mining malware is that most of these attacks are carried out using legitimate remote administration tools (RATs) that are freely available on underground hacking forums. These tools give criminals full control over compromised systems, and they allow them to download mining malware if they wish to do so.
Cryptocurrency-Mining Malware’s Impact on Enterprises
Enterprises may not be the main targets of cryptocurrency-mining malware attacks, but it doesn’t mean that they are immune to these types of threats. Cybercriminals have successfully managed to use malware capable of mining digital currency on websites with legitimate traffic, and this activity can severely damage a site’s infrastructure over time.
The reason why criminals can do this is that website scripts have been harnessed to secretly mine cryptocurrencies. This activity puts a heavy load on CPUs, slowly damaging computer hardware and reducing the machines’ lifespans.
Cryptocurrency-Mining Malware Creates Problems For Victims
One of the more recent trends in cryptocurrency mining is that some criminals are using malware-infected systems to mine virtual coins on behalf of other cybercriminals. This makes it possible for cryptocurrencies valued at several hundred dollars or even thousands of dollars to be mined without anyone actually touching a computer.
The victim’s machine becomes part of a botnet, and criminals can also use traffic distribution systems to get infected machines to do their bidding.
In the beginning, only a very small number of criminals could be counted on to have an army of machines that they could control at once, which limited this type of activity in the past.
However, in 2017 there was a significant increase in these types of attacks, which means that more criminals are getting involved in this particular part of the virtual coin-mining business.
The Truth About Mining Cryptocurrency
Many people mistakenly believe that they can use their computers to mine digital coins and obtain a significant profit. Still, the reality is that criminals who do this as part of a larger botnet are much more likely than ordinary computer users to obtain any financial benefit from using infected systems to mine virtual currencies. The number of new victims is also rising daily, which means that these attacks are becoming more profitable.
How Cryptocurrency-Mining Malware Changes On The Fly
One of the key parts of this growing business model revolves around cybercriminals constantly upgrading their mining tools to ensure they continue getting results without being detected by security solutions.
Therefore, this means that new types of cryptocurrency-mining malware get added to the arsenal every day, and cybercriminals get an edge over security software by modifying their products at a rapid pace.
The emergence of cryptojacking related attacks also leads to major changes in how mining tools are used. Criminals no longer need to install mining malware on victims’ machines, and they can now hijack legitimate websites and use them to mine digital currency.
In addition, security researchers have discovered that some cryptojacking attacks harvest and use other cryptocurrencies, not just Bitcoin.