You might not realize it yet but the cryptojackers are coming for you.
As far back as November of 2017, the incidents of cryptojacking rose 31% from the previous month and it’s only become more popular since. Even if you have no interest in cryptocurrency, hackers are liable to take a run at using your system resources to do their dirty work.
If you’re curious about what cryptojacking is, why it’s gaining popularity, and what you can do about it, keep reading.
What is Cryptojacking Anyway?
Also known as cryptomining, cryptojacking is the act of using an internet-connected device belonging to mine cryptocurrency. The problem with mining is that it takes a lot of computing power. Somewhere along the way, though, hackers figured out that they could piggyback the work onto a bunch of other computers and collect the bounty that much faster.
What’s Behind The Rise in Popularity?
When anything becomes popular, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes up with a way to manipulate it for their own purposes. This was (is) the case with cryptocurrency. As it’s become more valuable, finding ways to accumulate it quickly has moved to the forefront of hacker goals.
Consider the fact that, back in 2010, Bitcoin had a value of not quite $0.01 USD. Compare that to June 2018 when a single bitcoin was worth in excess of $6,750 USD.
And there you have the reason for the emergence of cryptojacking. It’s definitely worth the time and effort. If we assume cryptocurrencies will continue to increase in value, expect cryptojacking methods to become more sophisticated and prevalent too.
How Does It Work?
There’s more than one way to go about cryptojacking. A common approach is to embed the malware on web pages. When unsuspecting visitors land on one of these contaminated pages, the malware downloads a bit of code in the background.
Hackers also can gain access to remote computers through a variety of typical system weaknesses, attached to innocent-looking files, shared via email or, in some cases, included with text or other message program. In short, every method used to share malware can be an avenue for cryptojacking.
There is no operating system that’s inherently immune from cryptojacking. The same is true for device types. Whether you are running Windows on a laptop or a specialized operating system on your phone, consider yourself at risk.
Tips for Detecting Cryptojacking
While you are not likely to notice when the malware downloads, there’s a better chance of realizing something is wrong when it starts working behind the scene. That’s when an alert user will notice a mysterious resource drain on their system. Response time to your clicks will be slower. Expect the additional CPU burden will cause it to work harder than usual, so much that your computer grows hot to the touch.
Up-to-date antivirus and malware detection programs might be able to identify the background presence of the malware, which makes it a good idea to run periodic system scans. At that point, you need to spring into action to get it removed.
One preemptive tool you can deploy against common system weaknesses is ad blocking extensions. You’ll need one for each browser you use. This type of extension effectively closes one possible way for cryptocurrency mining malware to onboard. Some ad-blocking extensions let you know when an ad is blocked and might even provide enough information to tell if it was malware.
To get even more precise, check out anti-cryptomining extensions. Most major browsers offer them. This kind of extension works by blocking an attempted download of of cryptomining malware and alerting you to the incident. At this point, just get away from the suspicious page as fast as you can.
Found It? Now Get Rid of It!
So how do you get rid of malware that sneaks in? Obviously, the best strategy is never to let it load in the first place, but if it does, check to make sure all security software you have running on the system is up-to-date. Even if you updated the programs yesterday, do it again today. Fresh updates occur on a regular basis, and something released within the past few hours might be just what you need to isolate and remove the malware before it digs deeper into your system.
Run a full system scan. This is not the time to select the “light” option that looks for infections in the most likely places. You have no idea where the malware has landed or if it’s in the process of replicating itself in multiple files or drives. The full scan will find it wherever the cryptomining software happens to be, isolate it, and ultimately wipe it from your system.
Criminals Prefer Cryptojacking
If you haven’t yet pondered why hackers are so excited about cryptojacking, think of it like this. Ransomware is a one-shot deal where you make a score and then move onto the next victim. With crypto malware, the scam continues to churn in the background, solving the complex algorithms that yield fresh new cryptocurrency to spend.
It’s the ultimate in passive income that relies heavily on the general public complacency towards online security. If your system seems to be running slowly lately for no good reason, it’s time to dig into the matter and find out of you’ve been cryptojacked.