As Peter Parker explored life as Spiderman, he said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Of late, the growing popularity of decentralized digital currency in cyberspace has loosely translated the famous catchphrase. Now, great power equates to greater cryptocurrency mining capability. Power in this context refers to computational power, usually defined by the Central Processing Unit (CPU) rating. Mining virtual currencies on the internet require an enormous amount of processing power, usually unavailable to individual miners. This has led hackers to indulge in Cryptojacking – or hijacking the computational power of a remote system, without its owner’s permission or knowledge, to mine cryptocurrencies in cyberspace.
The more prevalent of Cryptojacking techniques occur in-browser, in which cybercriminals break into the server of a website and inject it with browser-based cryptomining code. The code gets activated when a web-surfer visits an affected website and utilizes the computational power of their platform without their knowledge. One of the more infamous crypto mining code, Coinhive, has been at the forefront of cryptojacking since its creation in 2017. A recent study uncovered that the ‘Homicide Report’ page of the LA Times website hosted a Coinhive script, which stole the CPU power of the visitor’s device to mine for Monero, a popular digital currency. The same study uncovered the presence of Coinhive on 348 government and university websites worldwide, and have led to it becoming the number one “Most Wanted Malware” in the world.
While the in-browser approach temporarily hijacks your processing power, installed crypto malware can do so permanently. Such malwares use part of your computational power as long as your system is up and running. This is potentially more dangerous than in-browser technique, as it increases the likelihood of other attacks, i.e. ransomware and keylogging.
The interconnectivity of multiple devices around the world has given rise to the Internet of Things (IoT). These appliances are usually connected to unsecured public networks, have weak security protections, and lack intrusion detecting antivirus; and hackers have exploited such deficiencies to infect them with unwanted cryptomining software. As these malwares doesn’t affect the functionality of the devices, they go unnoticed in the short term. In the long term, however, they degrade the battery life and burn out the device’s processor earlier than their shelf life.
The popularity of cryptojacking is attributed to the lower risk associated with the cybercrime. First and foremost, crypto mining codes are extremely hard to identify and can go undetected for a long time. Eventually, if they are compromised, victims have little incentive to trace back the source as no information was stolen during the process. Alex Vaystikh, CTO and co-founder of SecBI, says, “Hackers see cryptojacking as a cheaper, more profitable alternative to ransomware. With ransomware, a hacker might get three people to pay for every 100 computers infected, but with cryptojacking, all 100 of those infected machines work for the hacker to mine cryptocurrency.”
In 2017, Adguard, the world’s most advanced adblocker, reported a 31% growth rate for in-browser cryptojacking – with mining scripts running across 33,000 websites that cumulatively caters to a billion visitors per month. The ease at which IoT devices are being hacked have also concerned manufacturers, as the number of devices is expected to grow from 23 billion in 2018 to 75 billion in 2025. At the end of the day, knowledge about this issue is critical in developing anti-malware software’s, which could prevent the unauthorized use of private computational resources to mine cryptocurrency on the internet.