Learn more about cryptojacking, the malware that can rob your precious resources, including how it can affect your organization and how to prevent it.
What is Cryptojacking and How to Prevent It?
Not all security threats aim to steal your data or stop your operation. Some just want to use your hardware without your knowledge.
Cryptojacking is one such stealthy malware. This article will show the intricacies of cryptojacking, its workings, impacts, and prevention measures.
What is Cryptojacking?
Cryptojacking is an unauthorized exploitation of a user’s computer processing power to mine cryptocurrencies.
This sneaky activity is typically conducted through a malicious script embedded in a website or software. While the user remains unaware, their device resources are heavily consumed, leading to noticeable slowdowns in computer performance.
It’s not only personal devices that are at risk. The IT infrastructures of businesses and organizations have also been a prime target for these covert mining operations. The computational resources from these systems provide fertile ground for cryptojackers to maximize their illicit profits.
Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Mining
Blockchain technology is often likened to a public ledger. It’s a decentralized system that records and verifies transactions across many computers in a network. This structure ensures that each unit of digital value is spent only once, making it a crucial backbone of digital currencies like Bitcoin.
The primary appeal of blockchain lies in its transparency. Every transaction made is visible to everyone in the network, yet it’s nearly impossible to alter any information already recorded.
Mining refers to the process of verifying and adding transactions to the blockchain ledger.
Some cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin require a method called Proof-of-Work (PoW) mining, which involves solving complex mathematical problems. The ‘miner’ who solves the problem first gets the reward of new bitcoins.
PoW mining requires significant computational power, which in turn uses a substantial amount of electricity.
The costs can be high, but many are attracted to this activity due to the potential financial rewards. Miners can sell their mined coins for profit, creating a lucrative, though resource-heavy, industry.
Cryptojacking takes advantage of the profitability of mining without bearing the costs.
Cryptojackers infiltrate unsuspecting systems to use their computational power for mining activities. The attackers essentially get the financial benefits of mining (the coins) without the associated costs (the electricity and hardware wear-and-tear).
How Cryptojacking Works
Embedding the Malicious Code
The cryptojacking process starts with the creation of malicious code. The code is designed to use a computer’s processing power for cryptocurrency mining without the user’s consent.
This malicious code is then embedded into various online elements, such as scripts, browser extensions, ads, or even bundled with other software.
Executing the Code
The next step is getting the malicious code onto the victim’s device. This often occurs when a user visits a website hosting the cryptojacking script or when they download and install software that has been bundled with malicious code.
Once the code has been executed on the victim’s device, it starts mining for cryptocurrency.
The user typically has no idea that their device’s resources are being used for this purpose. Their computer might run slower or heat up more than usual, but these signs often go unnoticed or are attributed to other causes.
The mined coins are automatically deposited into the hacker’s own cryptocurrency wallet. Thanks to the decentralized nature of blockchain technology, tracing these transactions can be challenging, making cryptojacking a relatively safe crime for the perpetrators.
Types of Cryptojacking
This form of cryptojacking involves the user inadvertently downloading a malicious software program, often bundled with a legitimate piece of software. Once installed on the user’s computer, this harmful program starts mining cryptocurrency in the background.
This type of cryptojacking doesn’t require the user to download anything. Instead, the mining script runs directly within the browser when a user visits an infected website or clicks on a malicious ad.
Often, the website’s owners may not even be aware that their site is being used for cryptojacking. This type of attack is also called ‘drive-by cryptojacking’ as the mining starts as soon as the user opens the website without the need for any other interactions.
This is a more sophisticated form of cryptojacking that targets cloud services. Hackers steal API keys or find other ways to gain access to the vast computing resources available on cloud platforms.
Once they gain access, they deploy their mining scripts across multiple cloud-based virtual machines. This type of cryptojacking can be particularly costly for businesses, who often foot the bill for the increased cloud usage.
Impact of Cryptojacking on Businesses
When a cryptojacking script is running, it uses a large portion of the computer’s processing power. This leaves less processing power available for legitimate applications and processes.
As a result, data access times increase, and applications run slower. This can lead to frustration, decreased productivity, and potential financial losses for businesses.
Mining cryptocurrencies requires a lot of data to be sent and received over the network.
This high data usage can consume significant network bandwidth, leading to network congestion and slower internet speeds. This can disrupt business operations, especially in businesses that rely heavily on fast and stable internet connections.
Surge in Energy Bills
Cryptojacking scripts require significant computational power to mine cryptocurrencies, leading to an increase in electricity consumption.
This increase can be quite substantial, leading to a noticeable increase in energy costs. For larger businesses with many infected computers, this can translate into a substantial financial burden.
Decreased Hardware Lifespan
The continuous, intensive processing associated with cryptocurrency mining causes wear and tear on the hardware. Over time, this can lead to a decrease in hardware lifespan, resulting in the need for more frequent replacements or repairs. This is another way that cryptojacking can impose unexpected costs on businesses.
How to Prevent Cryptojacking
Education and Training
One of the most effective ways to prevent cryptojacking is by educating employees about the risks and signs of it. Organizations should provide regular training sessions to increase awareness about the methods that hackers use to initiate cryptojacking, such as phishing emails and malicious downloads.
Implementing Website Filtering
Another preventive measure is to block known malicious websites. Implementing website filtering can prevent cryptojacking scripts from loading in the first place. It’s also a good practice to block websites that aren’t necessary for employees to carry out their tasks.
Additionally, organizations can use ad blockers to prevent drive-by downloads. Since some cryptojacking scripts are embedded in ads, blocking these ads can prevent the scripts from running.
Enforcing Robust Security Measures
Ensuring robust security measures can prevent the spread of malware, including cryptojacking scripts. Regularly updating antivirus software, using firewalls, and implementing intrusion detection systems can all help in preventing cryptojacking.
Securing Cloud Environments
For organizations using cloud services, it’s important to secure cloud credentials. If these are compromised, attackers can gain access to the organization’s cloud resources for cryptojacking.
Implementing strong authentication measures and regularly auditing cloud environments for any unusual activity can help protect against this threat.
How to Detect Cryptojacking
Monitoring Hardware Usage
Cryptojacking scripts often cause a significant increase in CPU usage as they use your system’s resources to mine cryptocurrency. If you notice a sudden or unexplained increase in CPU or GPU usage, it could be a sign that your system has been compromised by cryptojacking.
Keeping Tabs on Overheating
Cryptojacking can cause your devices to generate more heat than usual. This is because the intensive computational tasks required for cryptocurrency mining put a heavy load on your hardware, causing it to heat up.
If your devices are running hotter than usual, or if their fans are constantly running at high speeds, it might be worth investigating for cryptojacking.
Observing System Performance
Another sign of cryptojacking is a degradation in system performance. If your apps are running slower than usual or if your device is continually lagging, cryptojacking could be the culprit.
While these symptoms could be attributed to other issues, don’t rule out cryptojacking, especially if the slow performance is accompanied by high CPU usage.
Using Anti-Malware Software
Some anti-malware solutions are equipped with features specifically designed to detect cryptojacking scripts. Regularly scanning your devices with anti-malware software can help ensure that they remain free from cryptojacking and other types of malware.
Protect Against Crytojacking With CyStack
Cryptojacking is a silent yet potent threat that leverages your resources to mine cryptocurrencies. The impact on businesses and organizations can be substantial.
If you’re looking to bolster your defenses against cryptojacking or have any questions related to this malware, don’t hesitate to reach out to CyStack. Our team of cybersecurity experts is always ready to help.