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Cryptocurrency has seen a meteoric rise in the past few years. New types of cryptocurrencies are being introduced daily, as are cryptocurrency-related cyberattacks, cryptojacking being one of them.

In this article, we’ll learn about what cryptojacking is, how it occurs, and how to detect and prevent cryptojacking attacks. We’ll also check out some examples of these attacks, so you know what to look out for.

What is Cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is the process of using the computing resources of people’s devices (computers, tablets, smartphones, or servers) to mine cryptocurrency, without their knowledge or permission.

Mining cryptocurrency can be a costly endeavor, sophisticated cryptomining operations invest a hefty amount of money to generate revenue, whereas a cybercriminal can just steal computing resources from their victim’s devices to mine cryptos.

In hindsight, it might seem like they’re not gaining much from cryptojacking. But if you add all the resources up, hackers can compete against dedicated cryptomining operations without spending a dime.

Cryptojacking has a straightforward motivation: money. Mining cryptocurrencies is lucrative to many people, but turning a profit can be next to impossible without the means to cover the costs.

However, anyone with limited resources and questionable morals can mine valuable cryptos using cryptojacking in an effective & inexpensive way.

How does Cryptojacking Occur?

Cryptojackers use more than one method to enslave a device. Most cryptojacking malware is designed to stay hidden from the user, and it doesn’t interfere with the files on your computer. So the victim might not even notice whether their device got infected or not.

These codes are simple to deploy and hard to detect. A cryptojacker can hijack your computer in a variety of ways, such as

  1. Phishing: Phishing is one of the most common techniques for malware infection. The cryptomining code is downloaded through a malicious link or an email attachment and starts mining cryptocurrency around the clock while remaining undetected.
  2. Javascript Code Injection: Another method, often called drive-by cryptojacking, uses a browser-based attack. In this approach, hackers embed a piece of JavaScript code onto a web page, similar to advertisement malware.
    Once a user's device visits the webpage, the cryptomining code starts mining cryptocurrency. The code doesn't infect the devices or the data stored in them, and the mining stops right after the web page is closed.
  3. Cloud-Based Cryptojacking: This type of cryptojacking entails seizing cloud resources to mine cryptocurrency. Hackers can scour an organization’s data and code for API keys to access their cloud services and use their computational power to mine cryptocurrency.

Hackers can also use this technology to substantially speed up their cryptojacking efforts to mine more cryptos, slowing down the servers.

How to Detect Cryptojacking?

   

Cryptomining malware is difficult to detect by design, but the mining process will certainly take its toll. Cryptojacking might cause slight performance degradation on an individual level. Still, for businesses and organizations, it can have catastrophic consequences like massive electricity bills, wasted computing resources, security vulnerabilities, or unusable computers due to cryptomining.

IT teams and personnel must remain vigilant to detect cryptojacking malware. These indicators will help in detecting such malware before things get out of hand:

Deteriorating Performance

One of the biggest giveaways of a cryptojacking attack is the significant reduction in computer performance, which includes:

  • Abnormally slow systems and high resource usage (99% CPU usage) while little or no media is playing, indicating the presence of crypto mining
  • The battery drains way faster than usual, indicating high power consumption, leading to higher electricity costs.

Overheating Issue

Mining cryptocurrency is a resource-intensive task. Cryptojacking can invoke inexplicable overheating issues in your devices, damaging or reducing their longevity. Some indications include:

  • Fans running faster than usual for no apparent reason
  • The device is heating up after opening a webpage, making the fans run faster, indicating a drive-by cryptojacking attack.

High (Central Processing Unit) CPU Usage

Cybercriminals use cryptojacking to mine CPU-intensive cryptos like Monero or Zcash. This results in a sudden spike in CPU utilization.

Hackers will try to conceal their cryptojacking malware as something legitimate to prevent the abuse from being spotted and stopped.

Business enterprises can approach their IT department for assistance in monitoring and analyzing CPU consumption. On the other hand, anyone can examine CPU utilization using the following methods:

  • If the CPU usage increases while surfacing a website with no or little media content, a cryptojacking script might be interfering with the system
  • Checking the CPU usage of a device with an activity monitor or task manager is an effective cryptojacking test.

Example & Effects of Cryptojacking

  • When Tesla Inc.’s Amazon Web Services software package was hacked in February 2018, it was later discovered that the company had been a victim of cryptojacking.
  • In 2018, cryptojackers targeted one of the European water utility control systems’ operational technology, seriously impacting the operators’ ability to manage the plant

     

This was the first known instance of cryptojacking against an industrial control system. The miner was generating Monero.

  • Wannamine, a cryptojacking script created by a Spanish cybersecurity business named Panda, affected numerous computer systems around the world in February 2018.
  • In late February 2018, the governments of the UK, the US, and Canada were targeted by cryptojacking attempts.

How to Prevent a Cryptojacking Attack?

Cryptojacking works by occurring locally on a device or through a web browser, which makes it challenging to identify manually. On the other hand, determining the source of high CPU consumption can be tricky for most people.

Also, cryptojacking processes disguise themselves as legitimate services to thwart malicious cryptomining. However, these precautions can help protect a computer and network from cryptojacking attacks.