Cryptojacking 101: What it is and how it works.

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Cryptojacking is an emerging threat that involves malware on your computer mining cryptocurrency without your knowledge. Let's look at what it is and how it works.

What is cryptojacking? 

Cryptojacking is an emerging threat that uses a victim’s computer to ‘mine’ cryptocurrencies without their knowledge. The proceeds are then retrieved by organised cybercrime groups and the infected computers continue to mine cryptocurrency until the malware is detected and removed.

Cryptojacking attacks can be performed either by installing malware on the victim’s computer, or alternatively the attack can be performed when a victim visits a website with malicious code.  

Unlike other attack vectors in recent years, such as ransomware, cryptojacking aims to function without the victim’s knowledge. As a result, you may not even notice any obvious signs that your PC has been attacked. 


What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are a form of digital currency which allows two or more people to make transactions without the need for intermediaries, such as banks or payment processing services. Cryptocurrencies rely on blockchain technology, which is a type of database that stores and processes information in ‘blocks’, which are chained together to form a ‘chain’; hence the name blockchain

Since 2010, cryptocurrencies have had their usage soar, with over 20% of Brits’ owning some form of cryptocurrency; a 558% increase from 2018. The most popular cryptocurrencies are Bitcoin, Etherum, Ripple, Litecoin, and more recently, Dogecoin, which was widely publicised by billionaire Elon Musk.

Unlike traditional currencies which have central banks to control inflation, cryptocurrencies rely on computing power to ‘mine’ new coins before they enter circulation. The mining process is incredibly resource-intensive and supercomputers are built specifically to mine cryptocurrencies. Even high-end PCs don’t have enough processing power to mine cryptocurrency profitably. 

Foreseeing lucrative returns, cybercriminals began creating malware to infect PCs, servers, and even phones. Instead of paying for supercomputers to mine cryptocurrencies, cryptojacking malware allows cybercriminals to profit with virtually no overheads. 


Why is cryptojacking on the rise?

There are several factors contributing to the growth of cryptojacking and many cybercriminals now prefer it to other forms of attack, such as ransomware.

For a start, it doesn’t take much time to create malicious scripts meaning that even unsophisticated hackers, known as ‘script kiddies’ can get in on the action. Other forms of malware can take considerably longer to develop, and in some cases the longer a script is, the easier it can be to deanonymise malware developers through advanced techniques like stylometry. 

Cryptojacking is a lucrative business. Running a cryptojacking operation has virtually no overheads, and if thousands of computers are infected and mining cryptocurrencies, the returns can outperform other forms of malware attacks.

Cryptojacking carries less risk to cybercriminals than other forms of attack, such as ransomware malware. This is partly because it’s less noticeable, and many victims don’t even know that their computer is infected.

Overall, the low entry barriers, low risk, and high rewards presented by cryptojacking make it one of the fastest-growing menaces that cybersecurity professionals are having to respond to.


How do I know if my computer is a victim of cryptojacking?

The tell-tale sign that your computer has malicious processes running is by its speed. If you notice that your computer is running painfully slow, then you may be the victim of cryptojacking.

Cryptojacking is resource-intensive, and it often disguises itself as a legitimate process. This means that identifying and removing the malware from your computer can be difficult.

If you visit a website and notice that your computer suddenly slows down, then you might be a victim of cryptojacking. This form of cryptojacking is often less severe than having malware installed on your computer, but it’s still a nuisance, nonetheless. 


How do I protect myself from cryptojacking?

The best way to avoid having malware on your computer is to avoid downloading untrusted files, opening email attachments from unknown senders, and clicking on links to unknown websites.

Having good antivirus software is a good idea for protecting your endpoints. However, they aren’t a fool-proof solution to tackling emerging threats, as we discussed in this article. 

If browsing the internet, disabling JavaScript code from being executed is a sure-fire way to prevent websites from exploiting your computer. However, most modern websites use JavaScript so disabling it can cause some features to break. Blocking JavaScript when visiting unknown websites is advisable, however.

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Blue Matrix Security is a cybersecurity consultancy based in Scotland. We believe that hacking can be a force for good, and we are committed to building a safer digital world for organisations in the United Kingdom.

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