Cryptojacking: Breakdown of a Trending Cybercrime

Cryptojacking: Breakdown of a Trending Cybercrime


Cryptojacking is a troubling new form of cybercrime that is quickly becoming more and more common. You’ve got questions: What is it? How does it work? Why are cyber-criminals engaging in it, and what can be done to detect and prevent it? We’ve got answers.

 The growing popularity and value of cryptocurrency has brought with it increased efforts to hack devices for mining power.

What is Cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is the unauthorized use of someone else’s computer to mine cryptocurrency. Essentially, crypto mining requires two ingredients: energy and hardware. With so much of both out there for the taking, it’s not surprising that enterprising cyber-criminals have utilized great energy to gain access. In this sense, cryptojacking is essentially a theft of resources.

The process of gaining access to a device’s computing power is not always illegal. Coinhive is a piece of JavaScript that is used to harness the power of a device. It was developed as an alternate way of monetizing websites. If a visitor to the website did not wish to be exposed to pop-up ads, he could instead consent to having his device’s unused power be utilized by the website’s administrator during the duration of his stay on the site. This computing power would be pooled to perform mining operations, and the process was consensual and upfront.

Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before ‘cryptojackers’ developed techniques for stealing a device’s computing power. Typically hackers infect your computer through phishing techniques, such as dubious links in emails, or infected software, or through websites and online ads that include JavaScript code that will automatically execute once loaded into the victim’s browser. The cryptojacking malware has become quite sophisticated, and some are capable of detecting, and removing, previously installed cryptojacking malware from your device: a virtual turf war taking place within your infected device.

Why Has Cryptojacking Become So Popular with Cybercriminals?

Cryptojacking is on the rise, as it offers several advantages over other forms of hacking, such as ransomware. Whereas ransomware involves interacting with the infected party, and relies upon their co-operation for monetization, cryptojacking malware works best when it is not detected. To this point, cryptojacking is a numbers game. Cryptojacking malware can be programmed to use as little, or as much of a host’s power as is deemed optimal. The effects of the stolen power will be a slower, less responsive unit. Utilize too much energy and the malware will be detected, and removed.

With this in mind, some malware has been designed to detect mouse movement, and temporarily suspend activity. An additional benefit of cryptojacking to cybercriminals is the anonymous nature of cryptocurrency. Unlike the spoils of ransomware, considerably less energy need be invested in laundering or hiding the monetary gains. For this reason, cryptocurrencies like Monero and Zxash are often preferred targets over more visible and scrutinized options like Bitcoin.  

Cryptojacking malware relies on avoiding detection, in order to steal resources on an ongoing basis.

Effects of Cryptojacking

For victims of cryptojacking, the effects can range from mild annoyance to serious monetary loss. When home computers and smart devices are infected, the results will typically be a slower machine, or one that does not perform to usual standards. For larger systems, being infected may result in costly strains on the company system, not to mention the IT department.

Detecting and Removing Cryptojacking Malware

By employing an antivirus many malwares can be detected, and blocked. Disabling Javascript, or running a script blocker tool can also be effective in ensuring your device is not infected. If your machine has already been infiltrated by malware, it is often fairly easily removed, by inspecting the protocol on your network traffic.

It is always good advice to monitor your machine’s behaviour, and if suspicious activity is detected Windows Task Manager or Mac OS Activity Monitor can often identify the culprit. It is worth noting that in some instances the file in question may hide behind a name that is shared with a legitimate windows file. In these cases, Process Explorer allows you to see the parent process and the location of the file.

While cryptojacking is a growing concern, in many cases, due diligence will allow one to detect and remove the responsible malware. Unlike ransomware, which relies upon the creation of an immediate and pressing problem, and requires the victim’s cooperation to make money, cryptojackers prefer to remain undetected, monetizing your system for as long as possible. For this reason, education and vigilance are key.

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Cryptojacking malware can affect a range of devices, from computers and smart phones to cloud software and the internet of things.