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This article will break down everything you need to know about cryptojacking – what it is, how it works, and the steps you can take to safeguard your computer against potential attacks.
Before we get into it, let’s talk about cryptocurrencies. Initially created as an alternative to traditional currencies, crypto gained traction in global markets for being anonymous, as well as for its potential to grow.
Bitcoin debuted in 2009 and would grow to become one of the most successful cryptocurrencies. And while Bitcoin and Ethereum are the most well-known coins, there are actually over 18,000 cryptocurrencies in circulation.
All cryptocurrencies are decentralized monetary units that can be transferred freely between participants in a network. In other words, cryptocurrency exists as units of electricity that are converted into code and have a monetary value.
What Is Cryptojacking?
Cryptocurrencies are created through a process called mining, where computers solve complex mathematical problems to release new coins. But while mining can be a lucrative endeavor, it can also be quite dangerous.
Cryptojacking is a type of malicious attack that seeks to hack into a mobile device or personal computer and install software that mines cryptocurrencies, often without the original user’s knowledge.
It presents a cyber threat and employs the resources of the hacked device to mine cryptocurrencies for the attackers. There is usually a cloud of anonymity around cryptojacking, meaning that unlike with other forms of cyber and crypto fraud, victims sometimes never learn they have been compromised. Cryptojacking doesn’t typically affect an individual’s crypto balances; it just focuses on mining new units.
A cryptojacking attack may also be referred to as malicious cryptomining, as hackers gain access to devices through rogue apps and browser downloads. Virtually all kinds of devices can be compromised, from desktop PCs and laptops to smartphones and even network servers.
How Does Cryptojacking Work?
In complex cases, source codes are used to get access to servers. Once the hackers have found their way into devices or cloud services, when a user clicks a link that has seemingly no action, the cryptomining code is installed onto the device’s backend.
The cryptojackers use the obtained access to drain power or other apps and processes on the device, using the code to calculate hashes, which are cryptographic functions used to map the data. Once the mining is done, the crypto coins are sent to the cryptojacker’s wallets.
Types of Cryptojacking
Cryptojacking has existed as far back as the bitcoin boom era, and there are three major ways cryptojackers hijack the computing resources of unwitting victims. Cryptojacking can be carried out through what may seem like malware infection, hacking into IT infrastructure, or cloud service hijacking.
- Cryptojacking Through Files
Otherwise referred to as file-based cryptojacking, this method attempts to hack computers using malicious emails. These emails typically have files with executable scripts that users download.
Hackers often pose as banks or service providers to ensure that the malicious files are downloaded. Once you click the attached link and the malicious code is downloaded, the cryptojacking scripts run in the computer’s background processes, and mining begins without you knowing.
- Cryptojacking Through Browsers
Browser-based cryptojacking is a type of attack that involves web browsers like Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Using programmable language, hackers produce a script for cryptomining. These scripts are embedded into corrupted versions of the browsers, and the device’s resources are utilized when the browsers are launched.
These cryptomining scripts have also been found in display ads and WordPress plugins.
- Cloud Cryptojacking
The previous cryptojacking methods we covered dealt with functional hardware from the targeted devices and are relatively easy to pull off. Cloud cryptojacking, however, is a more complex process.
Cryptojacking through the cloud is done using the API keys that grant access to the service. The keys can be found in organization files or in source codes. Once the keys are accessed, cryptojackers use the CPU’s resources to mine. The results are extensive increases in power consumption.
Although cryptojacking may seem harmless as hackers are not taking your money, these attacks can damage your device and run up an enormous electricity cost. To make sure you stay protected, let’s take a look at how to detect cryptojacking.
Nobody wants their computing power to be some stranger’s mining tool. But cryptojacking is a peculiar case as many people fall victim without even realizing it. The more computing power your devices possess, the more potential harm there is, especially in a work environment.
In fact, workplaces are often targeted more because they have numerous high-end devices that can handle the mining process more efficiently. It can also be challenging to find out if there has been a compromise, considering how many factors are there to account for. The best defense is vigilance, but here are some tips you can use when checking for an attack.
- Poor Computer Performance
One of the first signs that your device has suffered a cryptojacking attack is an unprecedented drop in its performance. If you or anyone else makes a complaint about slow computers at work, it might be a cue to have them checked out. This is often overlooked because most people expect their computers to age and need refreshing, but it could also be a cryptojacking symptom.
- Device Overheating
Every device overheats over time, especially after heavy or prolonged use. However, you should take a look into it if it becomes incessant. Overheating shortens the lifespan of a device and could lead to irreversible damage. While purchasing a cooling fan may solve regular causes of overheating, cryptojacking malware will only bow to cybersecurity tools.
- Increased CPU Usage
You can check out what portions of your CPU are being used in the Activity Monitor or Task Manager. Be sure to look out for spikes that don’t make any sense, such as increased usage on a website with little content. It could be a sign that a cryptomining script is running unchecked.
- Website Monitoring
Vulnerable websites are a hotbed for embedding cryptojacking code and a dream-come-true for every crypto attacker. To make sure you don’t fall victim to this type of hacking, take extra care to monitor your most visited websites and look out for any sudden changes. Early detection is the safest and surest cure.
For instance, in the case of increased CPU usage, you may find it difficult to find the offending program. A lot of processes are designed to avoid detection, either by hiding or disguising themselves as trusted programs.
While there are a number of cyber attacks that involve cryptocurrencies, there’s none that is designed quite the way cryptojacking is. Most usual cyberattacks are designed to take victims’ assets, and targets usually find out one way or the other, but cryptojacking hides under plain sight.
While cryptojacking detection can be a challenging task, it’s not impossible. You can protect your devices from damage by being watchful. The best protection is prevention, but you can increase your overall online safety through various malware protection tools.