Digital currency mining malware is an increasing problem as attackers attempt to hijack computer systems and electricity supplies to mine digital currencies. Cyber security firm Darktrace recently published its Threat Report 2018 where it reports 25% of all its customer networks have been affected by digital currency mining malware, known as “cryptojacking,” in the last six months. As online users ask what is cryptojacking and how can I stay safe, many other questions arise.

Darktrace also point to the problem of employees using computers at work to run mining software without permission, draining network power and utilizing significant amounts of electricity paid for by their employers.

Canadian websites affected by malware

“Those who are able to get into any network and put cryptocurrency mining malware onto computers can just start mining away,” said David Masson, Canada Country Manager at Darktrace, to IT World Canada. “And it’s not just the computer power they’re using – they’re also using the company’s electricity supply as well because it takes a lot of power to actually do this.”

As an example, U.S computer security researcher Troy Mursch identified up to 50,000 WordPress websites, including Canadian small businesses, that were unwittingly running CoinHive malware. CoinHive illegally mined the digital currency Monero for attackers while website visitors were browsing the affected websites built using the WordPress platform.

Digital currency mining malware can infiltrate computer systems by hiding within other applications such as utilities or games. Malware can also access computer systems if a user downloads suspicious attachments contained in spam or “phishing” emails.

The Ottawa-Carleton School Board, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, and B.C.’s Fraser Valley Regional Library were also all reported to have been have been affected by malware that compromised a text-to-voice reading aid called Browsealoud. The compromised TextHelp Ltd application added a malware mining code to internet browsers and resulted in its users unknowingly mining digital currencies.

Protecting against digital currency mining malware and unauthorized use

There are many ways to keep yourself safe from malware and illegal cryptocurrency mining (cryptojacking).

Anti-virus applications and regular updates

Using up to date anti-virus programs and operating systems can protect against malware which becomes embedded in user systems or applications. Regularly update any operating system, such as Windows or Mac OS, to patch any system vulnerabilities.

There are also specific anti-mining applications available to prevent and check systems for digital currency mining malware.

Email protection and awareness

A good spam filter on email inboxes can help to prevent spam mail or phishing attacks. Email users should be aware of the dangers of opening unidentified emails and the risks of downloading attachments from unconfirmed sources.

Identifying affected websites

Websites which contain malware and mine digital currencies while users are browsing are more difficult to identify. A system suddenly running more slowly may be a sign of high central processing unit (CPU) or graphics processing unit (GPU) activity and could indicate mining malware.

Checking task or process management applications like Windows Task Manager, for example, will highlight applications which are using a large amount of processing power.

If a browser, like Chrome, uses a significant proportion of system resources a browser task manager, like the Chrome Task Manager, may identify offending websites. This type of problem is usually resolved by closing the affected website.

For businesses and organizations, similar methods of identification and prevention will apply. Running corporate level security and antivirus systems and using the support of internal or external experts may also help.

For an organization attempting to identify if employees are knowingly digital currency mining without permission, things can get complicated. Sudden spikes in system resource or electricity usage can identify if a problem may exist. The investigation and resolution will usually depend on the size of the company and IT resources available to them.

Computer and business owners should seek out expert information and support appropriate to budget and issue. Individuals can find a wealth of advice or resources on the internet. Organizations will often need to take further steps to protect systems, resources and employees.

 

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