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Cryptojackers were the world’s most in-demand malware last December

Posted: 16 April 2018 6:39 pm
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When cryptocurrency prices rise, they are popular across the board for good and for ill.

Right now the forecast might be for a fresh spate of cryptojacking attacks, based on the rising prices and fresh surge of cryptocurrency interest as prices rebound.

The Check Point Global Threat Report for January 2018 found that the hottest items of the previous month were cryptojackers, and that two of the three most popular pieces of malware were cryptojackers, specifically Coinhive and Cryptoloot. Cryptojacking is when someone is unwittingly forced to mine cryptocurrencies on their computer. It's mostly harmless but uses a lot of resources and slows one's computer to a crawl.

Most cryptojackers are essentially the same. They take the form of code that someone can put onto a compromised website, embed into a word document or even a paid advertisement.

Sometimes it's also put onto websites deliberately. Adblockers have seen sites lose a lot of revenue, and some have put cryptojackers onto their own sites, sometimes with the permission of their users, sometimes without.

Interest in cryptojackers may have peaked in December when it was at its most lucrative, with Check Point reporting that 55% of businesses worldwide were affected by it. It's not entirely clear where these numbers came from or what's meant by "affected" though, and the real situation probably isn't quite as alarming as the 55% figure would suggest. Another study by Ahrefs has estimated that only about 0.0136% of websites are infected by cryptojackers, making the problem a lot less problematic than one might think.

The problem was also largely confined to abandoned and almost un-visited websites, the researcher notes. This is likely because they are left unmaintained, out of date and much more vulnerable than shinier, newer, more popular and well-maintained websites.

Cryptojacking grew in popularity throughout 2017, but may have quietened down as markets slumped after January. However, if prices continue rising there might be a resurgence.

This isn't all bad though. Cryptojacking is relatively harmless as far as malware goes, and is extremely easy to use, which means most attackers don't have a huge amount of technical proficiency and can't do real damage.

One of the largest and highest-profile cryptojacking attacks to date actually ended up doing more good than harm. Attackers managed to compromise about a thousand websites by infecting a text to speech plugin being used on all of them. This infected plugin was then used to mine cryptocurrencies. All up it netted a grand total of $24 for the attackers and highlighted a potentially devastating attack vector which was then fixed. With the kind of access they had, a more competent attacker could have done something much worse. Fortunately, the cryptojackers found it first and then wasted the opportunity.

Disclosure: At the time of writing the author holds ETH, IOTA, ICX, VEN, XLM, BTC, NANO

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of cryptocurrency or any specific provider, service or offering. It is not a recommendation to trade. Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information. You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.

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