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Protect Your Computer From Cryptojacking

by Pragati Shrivastava

Cryptojacking might be new terminology, but where there is opportunity, there will inevitably be bad elements that follow. Cryptojacking is the unauthorized use of a computer to mine for cryptocurrency. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for clever ways to turn new technology into money-making opportunities and cryptojacking is one of their latest innovations.

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In late October 2019, cybersecurity company Webroot included cryptojackers in its list of the nastiest malware of 2019, describing it as “low-risk, guaranteed money that’s less ‘malicious’ than ransomware.”

Though this is fairly recent, it has evolved into a complex threat model, coming in various flavors and targeting different types of physical and virtual devices.

Most cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin and Ether, use a mechanism called “mining” to maintain the integrity and security of their blockchain. The distributed ledger keeps track of their payments, and every time a new block of transactions is added to the blockchain, a network of computers called ‘miners’ validate the data by solving complex mathematical problems. After the registration of every new block, an amount of new cryptocurrency is created and awarded to the miner that solved the validation equation first.

In the past years, ‘crypto-mining’ has become a lucrative business. Dedicated crypto-mining farms consist of enterprise-level, powerful computers to compete for cryptocurrency rewards, raking in billions of dollars every year. Naturally, the evolution of cryptocurrency mining has also drawn the interest of malicious hackers and given rise to cryptojacking.

How does cryptojacking work?

Cryptojacking works by secretly using your computer’s resources to mine cryptocurrencies for the hackers who control them. A cryptojacker is malicious software that hijacks your computer’s CPU to perform cryptocurrency mining calculations and grab the rewards. These black hat developers consolidate resources from network-infected computers to create large, powerful mining pools, then works behind the scenes, secretly using your computer’s resources to mine for cryptocurrency.

While the general decline in value of cryptocurrencies has had a huge impact on traditional cryptocurrency mining operations, illicit cryptojacking is largely immune to cryptocurrency price fluctuations. Since cryptojacking is used to mine privacy-oriented coins, it is very difficult to calculate the precise income of these operations globally.

A large-scale campaign that resulted in cryptojacking malware being installed on tens of thousands of servers was estimated to be generating $10,000 per day.

Protect yourself from cryptojacking

Here are some critical steps that may prevent your computer from being hijacked.

  • Install an ad-blocker. Most will prevent cryptojacking scripts
  • Keep systems updated
  • Organizations can block URL/IPs of infected cryptojacking sites and domains of crypto-mining pools
  • Implement network system monitoring to detect excessive resource utilization
  • Educate end users on signs of infection

Cryptojacking, bitcoin and other privacy-oriented coins

Though not exclusive, hackers tend to run most of their cryptojacking campaigns on Monero (XMR), a currency that is known for its privacy features and hidden payments. Its mining mechanism also makes it suitable for cryptojacking. The mining of Bitcoin and Ether have been monopolized by big companies running expensive mining rigs that use specialized ASIC processors. This alone makes it nearly impossible for general computing devices to compete for mining rewards, thus the tokens are larger networks are less prone to cryptojacking.

Remember to protect yourself from cryptojacking using the steps we’ve proposed. If your computer suddenly seems to be bogged down, it’s time to scan for malware and malicious scripts. Be diligent and keep your resources safe.

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