Cyber Security

Cryptojacking: The Cryptocurrency Malware

James Hingley

Protecting a computer from all forms of malicious software is almost impossible. Something that is becoming increasingly common is cryptojacking.

What is cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking, also known as malicious cryptomining, involves hackers using another computer’s capabilities to mine cryptocurrencies. Hackers trick the victims into installing a piece of malicious software and once this is downloaded and installed the hackers can begin to mine cryptocurrencies.

Hackers often use phishing emails: victims receive an email that appears legitimate which contains a link that, once clicked on, begins to run a script on the victim’s computer that starts the mining process.

Another technique used by hackers is to embed the script on a website or in an advertisement. By visiting the website or clicking on the advertisement, the victim unwittingly starts the script running.

With the code in operation, hackers can begin to use the machine’s resources to mine cryptocurrencies. The code operates without the victim’s knowledge, draining the computer of its resources.

Why cryptojacking?

Hackers use cryptojacking software to acquire cryptocurrencies. The value of cryptocurrency is in the lines of code generated by electricity. The cryptocurrency rises or falls in value depending on the user demand and scarcity. The value of the coin also depends on its utility; it needs to be usable within the designated blockchain ecosystem. Likewise, the value depends on the demands for services provided by the ecosystem.

Mining cryptocurrency requires a significant amount of computing power. For example, the monthly electricity bill for a cryptocurrency mining farm in China was $80,000. For this reason, hackers look to distribute computing power across several devices.

Here is where cryptojacking comes into play. The hackers no longer need a computer specifically for cryptomining. Instead, they use the malware to build up a network of cryptomining devices. With this network, hackers can match and compete with cryptomining operations.

How does it differ from ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that locks a user out of their computer. The victim is subsequently unable to access their files. The hackers demand a ransom to regain access to the computer.

Cryptojacking, conversely, operates on a much more latent level. The code is unwittingly activated. It is not easy to detect. The reason for this is that the victim’s files are not compromised. Instead, the hacker eats up the system’s resources to the extent that it disrupts the normal function of the computer. Only at this point does cryptojacking become visible.

Both ransomware and cryptojacking cause damage to the victim. After all, that is the intention of hackers. With ransomware, the harm is clear as a fee must be paid to regain control of the computer. Even if the ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that the ransomer will turn over the files.

Cryptojacking does not directly attack the victim’s files. However, cryptojacking can severely damage the computer itself. For instance, it harms the computer’s hardware. In a worst-case scenario, cryptojacking can cause a system failure, resulting in an irreversible data loss.

How can cryptojacking be prevented?

Since cryptojacking can begin without the user knowing, it is difficult to prevent in the first place. However, certain simple practices can keep cryptojackers at bay. Cryptojacking often begins with phishing emails. Being able to identify phishing emails is therefore essential to stopping cryptojacking.

No phishing email is perfect. There will always be certain tells that betray the email’s intention. A useful practice is to check the email address. If a company is legitimate, emails will come from a domain email address.

Likewise, a company will never ask for sensitive information via email. For example, any email that asks for passwords, credit card information or tax details is part of a scam. Above all, caution is necessary when it comes to opening suspicious links or downloading software. The latter is particularly true of ransomware.

Incidents of cryptojacking and ransomware are on the rise. In May 2021, phishing emails were up by a record 440%. In general, phishing attacks have been rising since the beginning of the pandemic.

Accordingly, it is more important than ever that people take steps to guard against malware. Antivirus software is a useful tool. However, there is no substitute for individual vigilance. Exercising caution over unknown links and software is paramount to preventing cryptojacking.

About the Author: James Hingley

James Hingley is a contributing Features Writer with extensive expertise in International Relations, Politics and Culture.