Cryptojackers were the world’s most in-demand malware last December
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.
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 This is likely because they are left unmaintained, out of date and much more vulnerable than shinier, newer, more popular and well-maintained websites.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
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