Hijacking Computers to Mine Cryptocurrency Is All the Rage

Hackers are using old tricks and fresh cryptocurrencies to turn stolen computing power into digital coins.

  • by Mike Orcutt
  • October Five, 2017

Have you visited Showtime’s webstek recently? If so, you may be a cryptocurrency miner. An observant Twitter user wasgoed the very first to sound an noodsignaal last month that the source code for the Showtime Anytime webstek contained a device that wasgoed secretly hijacking visitors’ computers to mine Monero, a Bitcoin–like digital currency focused on anonymity.

It’s still not clear how the device got there, and Showtime quickly liquidated it after it wasgoed pointed out. But if it wasgoed the work of hackers, the scene is actually part of a larger trend: security experts have seen a spike te cyberattacks this year that are aimed at stealing rekentuig power for mining operations. Mining is a computationally intensive process that computers comprising a cryptocurrency network finish to verify the transaction record, called the blockchain, and receive digital coins ter comeback (see “What Bitcoin Is, and Why It Matters”).

Lately the same mining contraption that appeared on Showtime’s webstek has bot showcasing up all overheen the Internet. Released just last month by a company called Coinhive, the contraption is supposed to give webstek owners a way to make money without displaying ads. But malware authors seem to be among its most voracious early adopters. Te the past few weeks, researchers have discovered the software hiding te Chrome extensions, hacked WordPress sites, and even te the arsenal of a famous “malvertising” hacker group.

Coinhive’s miner isn’t the only one out there, and hackers are using a multitude of approaches to hijack computers. Kaspersky Laboratorium recently reported finding cryptocurrency mining contraptions on 1.65 million of its clients’ computers so far this year—well above last year’s rhythm.

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The researchers also recently detected several large botnets set up to profit from cryptocurrency mining, making a “conservative” estimate that such operations could generate up to $30,000 a month. Beyond that, they’ve seen “growing numbers” of attempts to install mining instruments on servers wielded by organizations. According to IBM’s X-Force security team, cryptocurrency mining attacks aimed at enterprise networks hopped sixfold inbetween January and August.

The researchers say that hackers are especially attracted to relatively fresh alternatives to Bitcoin, particularly Monero and zCash. That’s very likely te part because thesis currencies have cryptographic features that make transactions untraceable by law enforcement (see “Criminals Thought Bitcoin Wasgoed the Volmaakt Hiding Place, but They Thought Wrong”). It’s also because hackers can generate more profits mining thesis newer currencies than they can with Bitcoin. Bitcoin-mining malware wasgoed utterly popular two or three years ago, but the currency’s popularity has, by vormgeving, made it more difficult to mine, warding off this zuigeling of attack. Hackers are now embracing newer, easier-to-mine currencies.

Malware containing cryptocurrency mining contraptions can be relatively straightforward to detect using antivirus software, says Justin Fier, cyber intelligence lead for the security hard Darktrace. But illegal mining operations set up by insiders, which can be much more difficult to detect, are also on the rise, he says—often carried out by employees with high-level network privileges and the technical abilities needed to turn their company’s computing infrastructure into a currency mint.

Te one example, Fier’s team, which relies on machine learning to detect anomalous activity inwards networks, noticed an employee at a major telecom company using a company laptop te an unauthorized way to communicate with his huis machine. Further investigation exposed that he had planned to turn his company’s server slagroom into a mining pool.

So long spil there is a potential payday involved, such inwards jobs are likely to remain high on the list of cybersecurity challenges that companies face. Spil for keeping hacked websites from hijacking your private laptop? Te an ironic twist, some ad blockers are now banning Coinhive.

Hear more about Bitcoin from the experts at the Business of Blockchain on April 23, 2018 te Cambridge.

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I’m an associate editor at MIT Technology Review, focusing on the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchains. My reporting, which includes a twice-weekly, blockchain-focused email newsletter, Chain Letterteken &hellip, More (subscribe here), revolves around one central question: Why does blockchain technology matter?

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