A New Type of Cyberattack is on the Rise: Cryptojacking

By Indri Schaelicke | United States

As technology continues to advance, our lives are becoming more and more comfortable. Technology allows us to spend less time and energy doing basic tasks by automating them. Perhaps the most revolutionary invention of all time is the Internet, with many services being brought into the digital realm. It is now possible to buy products online from halfway around the world and do all of our banking from web-based apps and websites, tasks that a few decades ago might have taken hours to complete in the real world. Being able to do these tasks efficiently allows us to increase our productivity as we direct our scarce resources towards other ends. However, as more services are moved online and our use of the internet increases, so does the risk of cyberattacks and fraud. A new type of dangerous cyberattack is on the rise: Cryptojacking.

What is Cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is the use of a device’s resources and equipment to mine cryptocurrency. Hackers install software on computers, network servers, and mobile devices that remain hidden from the user’s view and mines cryptocurrency in secret. In some cases, this hidden software is loaded onto computers just like much other malware through tactics used in traditional phishing attacks. First, Cryptojacking victims receive an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, containing a link to another website. The link runs code that installs the crypto-mining script on the computer. The script then runs in the background as the user operates the laptop during their day-to-day activities.

Hackers can also make use of a victim’s computers’ resources by injecting the code into a website or an ad that is displayed on several websites. Once the victim visits that website or the infected ad is displayed in their browser, the code automatically executes. No code is stored on the victims’ computers, meaning that crypto-mining only occurs while that website running or that ad is being displayed. In either of these methods, the code uses the victim’s computer to run the code that mines the cryptocurrency computers and sends the results back to the hacker. This malicious activity harms victims by severely slowing down computer speeds and using up hard drive space. Cryptojacking is usually detected when a victim notices a significant drop in battery life and processing speed on their device.

What is Cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is decentralized blockchain money that exists only online, the most notable of which is Bitcoin. It was created as an alternative to traditional money, which is issued by governments and is trackable, as well as centralized. This technology gained popularity for its potential for growth and the anonymity it offers users. Users make transactions using cryptocurrency, while others use it to make investments, which they hope will earn them a sizeable payout. While Bitcoin was one of the first to be created, several others have been invented since. The word “cryptocurrency” comes from “cryptography” and “currency”.

Mining is a process by which new coins are found and added to a blockchain. Individuals or groups who use computers to solve complex mathematical problems to discover these new coins are called miners. The mining process is what makes cryptocurrencies decentralized, as anyone can use their computer to mine. These digital monetary units are popular for the security that they provide, which is ensured during the mining process. So how exactly does it work?

Transactions that take place on a specific coin’s network are collected and bundled into a block by the miner. If the miner attempts to submit a block to the system that contains an invalid transaction, the block will be rejected, thereby ensuring the security and reliability of the coin. An invalid transaction would be when a user sends an amount that they do not have.

Once the miner has verified that all transactions in the block are valid, they must compute a cryptographic hash, a set of complex mathematical problems. This prevents fraudulent blocks from being created and therefore secures the network. Computing a cryptographic is done using a computer, which makes it much more efficient but is a significant drain on battery as the calculations require a large amount of energy. Cryptojackers attempt to economize their mining by outsourcing their energy input to victims. The block is sent to the network after the cryptographic hash is complete so that it can be checked against the coin’s consensus rules. After it is verified that the block does not contain invalid transactions and meets the consensus rules it is accepted and the block is then added to the blockchain network. The miner is rewarded for their work with a set amount of the cryptocurrency, thereby adding new coins to the system.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The easiest way to protect against cryptojacking is to install a cryptojacking blocker browser extension. These extensions block a list of domains that have been found to be associated with cryptojacking. Popular miner blocking extensions include No Coin and MinerBlock. If you prefer a more comprehensive anti-malware and cryptojacking program, Malwarebytes and similar software block crypto mining in addition to general cybersecurity.

Further reading:

Malwarebytes: How does cryptojacking work?

Mycryptopedia: What is cryptocurrency mining?

Mycryptopedia: Blockchain Consensus Algorithms Explained

Fossbytes: 7 Easy Ways to Block Cryptocurrency Mining in Your Web Browser


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