Cryptojackers are hacking websites to mine cryptocurrencies

Hackers have a new trick up their sleeves: hijacking computers to generate digital coins.As bitcoin and other ...

Posted: Feb 22, 2018 4:43 PM
Updated: Feb 22, 2018 4:43 PM

Hackers have a new trick up their sleeves: hijacking computers to generate digital coins.

As bitcoin and other cryptocurrency prices soar, "cryptojacking" attackers surreptitiously take over web browsers, phones and servers to make some serious profit.

"Every avenue out there is being exploited on any kind of machine," said Jerome Segura, lead malware analyst at security firm Malwarebytes. "Consumer computers, servers, research centers - it has no bounds. We forecast it to be the biggest threat in 2018."

Cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin and Monero, are created by using computing energy to solve complex math problems. When a problem is solved, a new piece of currency is made. This is called mining. Currencies can be mined legitimately, but criminals are increasingly turning to malevolent mining activities.

In September 2017, Malwarebytes began tracking a major uptick in malicious cryptomining and it has become the company's most commonly detected activity.

In the last month alone, cryptojacking campaigns have hit websites belonging to governments, critical infrastructure and even YouTube.

It can affect business infrastructure, too. On Tuesday, researchers at security firm RedLock said Tesla's cloud storage - a place for storing data separate from physical Tesla servers - was recently breached to mine cryptocurrency.

A spokesperson for the car manufacturer said there was no indication customer privacy or vehicle safety or security was compromised.

But businesses should be on alert: RedLock's Upa Campbell, vice president of marketing, said it's easier for hackers to try making money by secretly mining cryptocurrencies than stealing and selling corporate data.

"Cybercriminals will always take the path of least resistance," Campbell said.

How it works

Hackers don't have to target individual phones or computers -- they can compromise websites and hijack thousands of devices at a time.

Last week, a cryptojacking campaign impacted almost 5,000 websites, including a number of UK and US government pages, through a flaw in a third-party application. Hackers exploited the flaw to mine currency using something called Coinhive.

Coinhive offers legitimate browser-based software tools for businesses to turn their websites' visitors into cryptominers. But some people have taken advantage of the project and now use its software for nefarious purposes. The company launched in September, and websites including Politifact.com and Showtime were unknowingly infected with Coinhive miners last year. Researchers also recently found Coinhive code hidden in Android apps.

Security researcher Scott Helme discovered the massive cryptojacking scheme a few hours after it launched and told CNN it's likely the hackers secretly inserted the malicious code during the weekend, a slow time for government websites, in hopes it stayed there for a long time. Coinhive reportedly said hackers made just 0.1 Monero, or $24, while the attack was active.

Bitcoin mining is energy-intensive. In fact, some researchers are concerned about its impact on the environment. In both cryptojacking and legitimate mining schemes, people usually prefer to mine Monero, a lesser-known cryptocurrency that does not require as much power to generate.

Not all cryptomining is malicious. For example, digital publishers think it may be a way to make money outside of advertising. Politics and culture publication Salon is currently experimenting with cryptomining, and alerts readers before hijacking their computer's power to generate currency.

How to stop it

"For the end user, there's not much you can do to protect yourself from cryptojacking beyond using anti-virus software or an ad blocker in your browser," Helme said.

If a website is mining currency with your computer, you can close the page to stop the activity. Browser extensions like NoCoin can also be used to block Coinhive and other cryptocurrency miners.

It's possible to analyze how much computing power your browser uses by looking at the Activity Monitor on Macs or the Resource Monitor on Windows computers. These are built-in tools that let you see which applications, like the Chrome or Safari browsers, use the most energy. A graph at the bottom of the monitor will show large spikes in computing power when you visit a website running a cryptominer.

But that might be too complicated. Instead, if you hear your computer's fan start whirring when you're visiting a website, or if the browser suddenly slows down dramatically, a cryptominer may be running.

Although the impact to consumers is low, Helme said it's important to be aware of these attacks and stop them if you can.

"The bottom line here is your device is being used to make money for a criminal gang," he said. "We don't know who these people are or what their intentions are. They could use it to fuel future criminal activities."

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 453755

Reported Deaths: 33122
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Queens720517246
Kings678927323
Bronx528154946
Nassau465052201
Suffolk462932011
Westchester380011454
New York332873175
Richmond158371086
Rockland15045675
Orange11955498
Erie11251693
Monroe5985289
Dutchess5108156
Onondaga4321205
Albany3063134
Oneida2400123
Ulster225595
Niagara1766101
Putnam159463
Sullivan158148
Broome151382
Schenectady139848
Saratoga103117
Rensselaer90542
Columbia58837
Chautauqua5619
Madison49217
Oswego4793
Ontario46935
Chemung4153
Tompkins4080
Steuben38742
Warren37133
Otsego3355
Fulton33324
Herkimer33110
Orleans33054
Greene32318
St. Lawrence3224
Genesee3175
Wayne3155
Washington29414
Cattaraugus2586
Chenango2487
Montgomery2324
Tioga22925
Cayuga2082
Livingston2068
Cortland1690
Jefferson1670
Essex1640
Clinton1585
Wyoming1355
Delaware1334
Seneca1063
Allegany1031
Schoharie830
Franklin660
Yates627
Lewis500
Schuyler410
Hamilton150
Unassigned016
Utica
Few Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 82°
Oneonta
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 78°
Herkimer
Few Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 82°
Thendara
Few Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 82°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Click here to learn more about A Healthier Mohawk Valley
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
WKTV Golf Card - Under 150 left