Virtual currencies are essentially the cloud-based version of traditional paper money. For example, with Ransomware a Cyber attacker wants to be paid with this new type of currency, usually Bitcoin. But, there are also other types of virtual currencies available, and collectively, these are known as “Cryptocurrencies”.
Cryptomining & Cryptojacking Defined
Cryptocurrencies are still popular among traders despite the recent volatilities that they have experienced in the financial markets. But now, Cyber attackers are entering into this realm, with a new threat called “Cryptojacking”, which involves illegally mining various Cryptocurrencies for monetary value.
But first, it's important to review what Cryptomining is all about. It is a mechanism by which specialized machines are used to process as many Bitcoin transactions as possible. This is done by solving complex mathematical equations which allow them to put together, or chain, various blocks of transactions in a sequential fashion (hence the term Blockchain).
How a Cryptojacking Attack is Launched
Because of the return that is associated, the Cyber attacker now wants to gain their foot into this game, and become crypto miners themselves, albeit illegally. However, there are very complex mathematical problems to solve in order for miners to be rewarded. This of course takes a lot of computing and processing power.
The Cyber attacker does not want to spend the money in terms of procuring the extra hardware to do this, so instead, he or she will hijack your computer, and from there, steal the processing power as well as the electricity in order to mine the Cryptocurrencies. You may be asking at this point; how can they do this to my computer?
Well, it's actually quite easy. All they have to do is send you a Phishing Email, which contains a malicious link or attachment. Once you have fallen victim to this, a specialized Cryptomining code is then installed onto your computer or mobile device. But what is even stealthier is that even if you visit a website, there could be infected pieces of Java source code running behind the site you are viewing, and from there, the Cryptomining code can then be covertly loaded onto your computer.
At this point in the game, the Cryptomining code is now technically malware. But the problem with this new malware is that it is very difficult to spot on your computer and can be installed and deployed in a very sneaky manner. In these instances, the Cyber attacker is not just exclusively targeting computers and wireless devices, they will go after anything that will give them free electricity. This includes servers, routers, cable modems, firewalls, network intrusion devices, etc.
It's also important to keep in mind that there is no specialized package that the Cyber attacker has to deploy onto a device – the malware is just a few lines of infected source code, and as a result, this makes it all the more difficult to detect.
Because of the extremely low overhead that is required, and its sneaky nature, the rise in Cryptojacking has increased significantly.
So, what are some of the telltale signs if your computer has been hijacked for the purposes of Cryptojacking? Here are some clues:
- Slowdown in the speed of your computer;
- Very slow load times when trying to connect to the Internet;
- A slow increase in your electricity bill;
- Unusual spikes in CPU activity;
- Faster than normal battery drainage on your laptop or wireless device.
Other Cybersecurity Risks To The Cryptocurrencies
1) Unregulated exchanges:
In the financial markets where established trading instruments (such as mutual funds, ETFs, etc.) there is a huge oversight by the various government agencies to make sure the proper controls are put into place and monitored closely. But, this is not the case with the exchanges in which for example, Bitcoin would be traded. They are unmonitored, and because of that, there are no controls. Thus any confidential information and/or data that you submit for trade could be intercepted very quickly by a malicious third party.
2) No account security:
All traditional financial institutions are now mandated to offer the highest level of Cybersecurity to customer accounts. However, in the case of Bitcoin, many people buy it using a private key, which is typically stored on a personal device. This can pose a serious threat if hacked into, and it's quite possible the amount of Bitcoin you bought could be hijacked too. At the present time, the virtual currency exchanges do not offer secure customer accounts, so the customer is pretty much responsible for their own security.
Example - Coincheck had $550 million worth of cryptocurrencies heisted; Bithub had $30 million stolen.
3) A further rise in phony websites:
Given the ever-growing popularity of virtual currencies, many Cyber attackers are now setting up spoofed websites which con victims into investing or donating their Bitcoins. These are very similar to normal Phishing campaigns and the result is that the virtual currency is deposited into a phony overseas account, which probably cannot be recovered. An example of this is the Initial Coin Offering. With this type of scam, victims are lured into investing their Bitcoin into the promises of the launch of a new type of virtual currency, which turns out to be fake.
With the remote workforce now taking a permanent foothold worldwide, many Cyber attackers are “shying” away from tapping into the electrical and processing powers of both hard-wired and wireless devices. They are instead shifting their attention to Cloud-based platforms, such as AWS and Microsoft Azure when it comes to hijacking the resources of the Virtual Machines (VMs).
In a future article, we will do a deep dive into this and provide tips as to how you can keep your VMs safe in the Cloud. Hopefully, this information will help you in some way to keep your information secure. Stay tuned for more.