What is cryptojacking and how is it affecting businesses?

Criminals are cashing into the latest commodity of mining cryptocurrencies illegally, also known as cryptojacking. This is where criminals use ransomware-like strategies and infected websites to gain access to the devices of individuals, including the devices of your employees, to mine crypto-currencies without their consent or knowledge. In 2018, cryptojacking saw a staggering increase of 629% in the first quarter of the year,[1]making it one of the fastest growing forms of cybercriminal activity.

What is cryptojacking?

There are two main ways in which cybercriminals are aggressively targeting and enslaving desktops, laptops, servers and in some cases even mobile devices.

Ransomware

The original tactics of ransomware were to infiltrate a victim’s device using malware, accessing their system and personal files and demanding a ransom payment to release access. An example of malware is malicious spam such as an email scam containing infected attachments or links to malicious websites.

With cryptojacking, instead of demanding a ransom, these tactics are used to run codes that place the crypto mining script unknowingly onto the victim’s computer. These scripts then work behind the scenes to illegally mine coins as the victim uses the computer normally.

Infected Websites

As technology has advanced mining crypto-currencies can also be auto-executed using JavaScript on an infected website or online advertisement, meaning, without downloading or installing code to run on the victim’s device. JavaScript is run on nearly every type of website, this means when you load the page, the in-browser mining code simply runs.

“There was 4bn in profits from mining between 2017 and 2018”[2]

How does it work?

Cryptocurrencies are a decentralised form of digital currency which works through distributed ledger technology. For this to work, transactions in various forms must be verified and recorded through ‘mining’ or cryptomining. Mining crypto-currencies can equate to serious profit, as each verified and recorded transaction reaps a reward. However, it is not a cheap gig to run, extremely competitive, and leveraged on the first miner to solve that particular complex mathematical encryption.

Due to the competitiveness of cryptomining, miners are adding sophisticated video cards and setting up computer mining farms to gain an advantage. This means that even the most sophisticated PC’s have no chance in this competitive race. Cryptojacking, therefore, gives miners the illegal advantage of using the devices of others to mine cryptocurrencies without cost, resources or risk of damage.

As cryptojacking involves quietly processing in the background, many do not know that their device has been infiltrated. One of the only signs of cryptojacking is the device lagging in performance. However, the real problem with cryptojacking is that it diminishes the processing power and ultimately damages the device.

Not only is cryptojacking difficult to identify it is also difficult to trace. Few cryptocurrencies can be labelled as completely anonymous, however, there are a few and of course are favourites for cybercriminals. Using cryptocurrencies such as Monero and Zcash mean that it is even more arduous to track illegal activity back to the hacker.

–Cryptojacking gives miners the illegal advantage of using the devices of others to mine cryptocurrencies without cost, resources or risk of damage–

“59% of U.K. companies have been affected by crypto jacking malware at some point.”[3]

How does Cryptojacking affect businesses?

For businesses, cryptojacking harms CPU resources, through stealing processing power, costing businesses in energy and performance. Slowing down the system compromises the system, which can leave enterprises susceptible to other security threats as well as vulnerabilities. Statistics show that “25% of organisations have experienced cryptojacking activity within their cloud environments.”[4]

In 2018 we saw the Monero mining botnet dubbed Smominru, tracked and reported by Proofpoint[5] which infected more than half-million machines. It is estimated that the criminals profited an estimate of $3.6 million.[6]With these figures, it is clear to see how cryptojacking is a rising threat to cyber and personal security. Assessing the cost of electricity alone to mine coins, cryptojacking can seriously sabotage a business’s bottom line. 

“Criminals profited an estimate of $3.6 million”

–Proofpoint

How can businesses protect themselves from cryptojacking?

For businesses, it is essential that information and security professionals have acute operational awareness as well as, the skillsets to prevent any illicit activity within the business’s infrastructure. There are some key actions that can help prevent cryptojacking, here are our top three…

Training

As everything exponentially moves into the digital space, it is essential that security awareness is woven across the board in any business or organisation. Ensure all employees are aware of cryptojacking as well as the skillsets of information and security professionals are up to date.

Block domains in Adblocker

Many cryptojacking scripts are often delivered through website advertisements, therefore, installing a sophisticated adblocker can be a good preventative measure against cryptojacking. Some ad blockers have the capabilities to specifically detect crypto mining scripts.

Manage devices

Ensure all devices connected to the server are up-to-date with the latest software and protection. If it can be avoided do not allow employees personal devices to be added to the main network to minimise the risk of infiltration.

Cryptojacking is on the rise, have you and your business got the skills to protect your assets?

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