What is Cryptojacking? And How to Protect Against Cryptomining Malware

As the digital era dawns, both angels and demons have come to inhabit a new cyber environment. Someone’s gotta win, and someone’s gotta make a quick buck.

Some people believe that tech is making crime easier. Do you agree? As far as the correlation is concerned between blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, cryptomining and cryptojacking, it does seem so. Blockchain technology has facilitated the creation of a new technological environment – it is the record-keeping technology behind the newest form of electronic money, cryptocurrency. And cryptomining is how that new currency is created – and stolen.

As a type of cybercrime, cryptojacking compromises the cyber security of both individuals and organizations. It can be done via malware installation, cryptojacking scripts or code insertion into web browsers. If the network within an organization suffers from cryptojacking, the CPU will be largely applied to that purpose, preventing its use for normal operations and costing resources (such as time and energy, i.e. money), and risks are introduced to your cyber security.

Then, what exactly is cryptojacking? How does it work? And what can we do to protect against it?

What Exactly Is Cryptojacking?

Before learning about cryptojacking, it’s necessary to understand the following terms:

Blockchain technology

Blockchain is a virtual and public record of all digital transactions stored in a safe and transparent way. Data on transactions is captured in an interconnected computer network (block) owned and operated by users on the chain.

Cryptocurrency

A cryptocurrency is a virtual or digital currency that is designed to work as a medium of exchange. Being based on blockchain technology, it is a decentralized currency that makes use of cryptographic technology for security and verification purposes. Therefore, cryptocurrency is not regulated by any central authority, and it is immune to government control and interference. Bitcoin is the leading type of cryptocurrency.

Cryptomining

Cryptomining is the procedure by which cryptocurrency transactions are added to the blockchain ledger. In itself, it is not evil, but rather a necessary part of the blockchain technology. As a cryptocurrency transaction occurs, a crypto miner will update the blockchain and verify that the information is true. Cryptominers must implement complex algorithms through high-performance computer servers and specialized hardware to do this, and they are incentivized by earning cryptocurrency as their profit.

Of course, this verification process – crypto mining – costs time and money if it’s done with your own computer. So some devious hackers out there had a genius idea: why not get someone else (or someone else’s computer) to do it for me… Well, that’s cryptojacking. Cryptojacking is a type of malicious cryptomining. When a cryptojacking attack takes place, cryptojackers use others’ processing power and hardware to earn cryptocurrency. They basically tell your computer to spend all its resources solving these complex algorithms on their behalf.

Cryptojackers usually use your computer to mine cryptocurrency from three resources:

Source#1: Cryptomining Malware

Cryptomining malware, like any malware, is a malicious piece of software that can be contained in email, file, attachment, or malicious link. Whenever it is clicked on and downloaded, a cryptomining script will be moved and rooted in your device and will run in the background without the user’s knowledge.

Source#2: JavaScript

Cryptojacking can directly take place on a web browser and web page – that’s known as browser cryptojacking. Hackers establish cryptomining code with a type of programming language and the script will be inserted into many websites or pages. The cryptomining script will automatically run on the website.

Source#3: Cloud

This one’s particularly relevant to businesses or organizations. Cryptojackers can attack cloud services based on files and codes for API keys. Once access is obtained, hackers will largely use CPU resources for cryptomining.

Therefore, cryptojacking can be easily carried out and is difficult to detect. Depending on how damaged the computing system is and how effectively compromised the network, cyber criminals can get more cryptocurrency in illegitimate ways.

How does Cryptojacking Work on my Device?

Now that the above three sources of cryptojacking are covered, it’s time to know how cryptojacking works from head to toe on your device – be it your iPhone, PC, tablet, or android. Because all are vulnerable.

Step#1: Cryptomining code is injected into email, links or web pages.

Step#2: Unsuspecting users run cryptojacking script through insecure activity (like clicking that dodgy link in a spam email) on their devices.

Step#3: Cryptojacking script runs in the background.

Step#4: Complex algorithms are performed by victims’ devices to mine blocks.

Step#5: Cryptocurrency – the reward for the mining – will fall into cryptojacker’s pocket.

In summary, from beginning to the end, cryptojacking is successfully done due to “cooperation” between you and cryptojackers. Nevertheless, you’re kept unaware of the whole process. So it’s hardly what we’d call a fair cooperation. Cryptojackers, however, make profit based on your computing power and device.

Am I Being Cryptojacked? 3 Signs that Cryptojacking is Happening

The essential principle of cryptojacking is that hackers take advantage of businesses’ and users’ computers or other devices to carry out cryptomining to make a quick buck. Because the cryptojacking attack takes place in your device, there are some key signals telling you that you’ve been cryptojacked, although it’s not always so obvious. Here’s a list of the things to look out for.

Signal#1: Suddenly High Power Consumption

The first signal indicating that a device has been suffering from cryptojacking is high power consumption. Cryptomining takes a huge amount of electricity. To save energy is one of the main reasons cryptohackers opt for cryptojacking via others’ processing power. Cryptojacking even inhibits your device’s sleep mode so extremely high processing power can be kept up for extended periods. Therefore, if you find your electrical bills skyrocket, it’s extremely possible you are suffering from cryptojacking.

Signal#2: Too Much CPU Occupying

Cryptojacking can’t be smoothly run unless large amounts of CPU are occupied. If you find much of your CPU is occupied and you’re not downloading large videos. Then, you can speculate your device is suffering from cryptojacking. Listen out for your fan whirring more than usual – that’s a good sign your computer’s CPU is working overtime and your device is trying to cool down.

Signal#3: Sudden Slow Down of Device’s Performance

As cryptojacking attacks take place on your device and work your CPU to the limit, your device will run quite slowly. The slowing down of your device isn’t just a pain momentarily, it can last a long time and cost you some serious money if you run your business from the device.

What Can be Done to Protect Against Cryptojacking?

Mentioned below are some of the steps you can initiate to reduce the risk of cryptojacking on your computer.

• Install an anti-cryptomining or ad-blocking extension on your web browser;
• Start using endpoint protection software that can detect certain known cryptominers;
• Pay proper attention to maintaining your browser extensions;
• Ensure that all your web filtering tools are up to date;

• Form healthy and secure browsing habit and never click unless high security is guaranteed;

• Try to stay more private on social media;

Use a VPN to hide all your online activities.


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