Hackers and cybercriminals are continually looking for new ways to make easy money. They have been doing this through various methods like phishing, launching man-in-the-middle attacks and deploying ransomware on their victim’s devices.
A more recent form of cyber attack is where cybercriminals get malware on the victim’s device. But unlike ransomware which holds your device and data hostage, the malware begins to execute scripts designed to mine cryptocurrency on the device.
Now if you haven’t been climbing mountains in the Himalayas for the past two to three years, you would know what cryptocurrencies are. But on the off chance that you have been doing so, let us help you out.
Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that make use of strong cryptography to secure financial transactions; they can be used like regular currencies to purchase things. Bitcoin is a famous example of cryptocurrencies.
Like regular currency, cryptocurrencies need to be ‘minted’ for circulation, and this process of ‘minting’ is done through mining.
Mining cryptocurrency requires the use of special software to solve complex mathematical problems, and the solution earns the miner a certain amount of cryptocurrency.
The problem is: crypto mining takes a lot of processing power, and needs expensive, specialized hardware for efficiency.
Regular PCs and mobile devices also work, but with far less efficiency. So cybercriminals came up with a way to illegally harness the processing power of multiple devices for crypto mining saving them the costs of getting expensive equipment and dealing with high electricity bills – Cryptojacking.
How does it work?
There are two ways cybercriminals get the scripts required for crypto mining on the victim’s device. The first is through a phishing-like attack, where the victim receives a link from a legitimate looking email.
On clicking the link, a program gets to run which that places the crypto mining script on the victim’s device. The script then begins to run in the background.
The other way is to inject a website or an ad with the crypto mining script. Whenever such a site is visited, or an infected ad pops up on a webpage, the script gets executed by the browser. The code then begins to solve complex mathematical problems in both scenarios. The solution to these problems is sent to servers controlled by the hacker.
Since none of the victim’s files are being stolen, deleted or manipulated in any way, the victim rarely gets to know of the presence of the malware. The only noticeable symptom of the malware is the slowing down of the devices it resides, as it takes up a lot of CPU resources.
Protecting your devices from crypto-jacking
There are specific steps that can be taken to make sure your devices don’t get infected by crypto mining scripts.
The very first thing to do which might seem quite evident at the moment is to be aware of its existence, and how it’s usually spread. But you also need to make your employees informed too if you run an organization. You should include it in their security awareness training.
Secondly, install ad blockers and anti-crypto mining scripts. One of the ways crypto mining script get on devices is through ads and infected sites. Ad blockers can easily prevent the scripts from getting on your PC browser through ads. Anti-crypto mining browser extensions can also detect the presence of these scripts and block them. Examples of such extensions are Minerblock and NoCoin.
You should also install antivirus software or endpoint protection capable of detecting mining scripts. Web filters can also be used to filter out websites known to be affected by mining scripts. You should note that some of the mining scripts can still circumvent some of the protective measures.
What if you have been crypto-jacked?
Now it’s very likely that with all the preventive measures employed your devices still get infected. But as mentioned previously, sure that signs give the mining scripts away are:
A spike in CPU usage, overheating of the CPU due to the former and poor performance of your PC.
When this happens, you need not fret as you can still get the mining scripts out of your device.
Three significant things that can be done to recover from a crypto jacking are:
- Destroy the scripts
- Update your browser extensions
- Learn from your mistakes
Destroy the scripts: This can be difficult as you have to locate the mining script first. But once you find it, either on your browser or your PC, you can make use of browser extensions such as Minerblock and NoCoin or antivirus software capable to delete them.
Update your browser extensions: Make sure all your browser extensions are up to date. Remove the ones you aren’t using and the ones you have noticed to be infected by mining scripts.
Learn from your mistakes: Try to figure out how you got your device infected in the first place and make sure it never happens again.
Cryptojacking isn’t going to leave anytime soon due to its profitability and ease of setup. So it’s essential you take to the preventive measures mentioned above. But if you do end up getting infected, well, you know what to try.