Privacy / Security

Move over ransomware, cryptojacking is here: Tips to prepare and prevent

Unless you’re a hacker, ransomware is not your friend.

You’ve probably heard about the danger, as this nasty malware continues to churn its way through business networks all over the globe. Ransomware is a form of software virus that takes over your computer and locks you out of all files on your hard drive. The hacker then contacts the victim with an offer to unlock the files in return for a payment normally made in cryptocurrency.

The scope of the problem is notable. Ransomware damages already reach into the billions of dollars annually and Cybersecurity Ventures estimates losses of up to $6 trillion by 2021.

But now the trend in cybersecurity has begun to shift. Cryptojacking has suddenly become the most aggressive form of cybercrime being executed by hackers. On the surface, it may seem less damaging than traditional ransomware, but in fact, it can create just as many headaches if not more.

Read on learn more about the cryptojacking threat and what you and your organization can do when it comes to prevention and protection.

A little background on mining malware

Cryptojacking has emerged as one of the leading malware threats today due to the rise in popularity of digital currencies. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum operate on a distributed network of computing nodes that track transactions without requiring banks or physical currencies.

The technology behind cryptocurrency is called blockchain, which functions as a digital ledger for storing information about the movement of money. New blocks can actually be added to the blockchain by an individual through a process known as mining.

Mining

In order to mine for the digital currency, you need to have access to high-powered computers with advanced processing chips and graphics cards. The hardware is tasked with computing algorithms that determine the next sequence to include in a blockchain. After successfully verifying a block element, the miner receives a small piece of credit in exchange for the work.

Cryptojacking is essentially a malicious form of mining software. Hackers try to install it on your local machine’s operating system and then have it mine for digital credit in the background using your computing resources. All currency earned is sent to the hacker’s digital wallet without the computer owner knowing what has occurred.

The cryptojacking trend

But why have hackers begun to favor cryptojacking instead of ransomware or other forms of viruses? The answer is related to the stream of income that mining malware can produce. With a typical ransomware attack, the hacker needs to infiltrate a network or system and then encrypt the data on a local hard drive. Even if successful, there is no guarantee that the victim will pay the ransom, and after a single attack, the affected organization will likely strengthen their network security.

Cryptojacking is more of a stealth attack. Often, a computer user will not even realize that their operating system has been compromised. The mining malware can run invisibly in the background for twenty-four hours per day and be earning credit that entire time while running up the electricity bill.

In addition, hackers have found ways to create mining malware that automatically spreads between computers on a shared network. This means that in a short period of time, an entire organization can be put to work mining cryptocurrency.

Tips for detection

All internet users need to be on guard against potential cyber attacks. The first sign of cryptojacking is often a phishing scam sent via email. Sometimes it takes the form of a suspicious email from an unknown sender with links or attachments embedded in it. The email will often be targeted specifically for you and may try to imitate an online retailer, bank, or credit card firm.

Clicking on a phishing link or attachment may launch a malware installer within your operating system. At that point, the cryptojacking attack has begun and will be difficult to track. You will likely not see any suspicious items in your Windows Task Manager or other system monitoring tools. Hackers have figured out ways to hide their malware or disguise it with a label.

Detection

The best way to check for potential mining malware is to keep a close eye on the performance of your desktop or laptop computer. If you find that applications suddenly begin crashing or running extremely slow, it could the result of a cryptojacking attack. Mining malware can consume over ninety percent of your CPU power.

Closely monitor the heat and fan usage on your PC. Because of the work required by the CPU chip and graphics card, mining can cause the hardware to overheat. Your computer’s internal fans should not have to run consistently when you are only running basic applications like web browsers and email tools.

Ways to prepare and prevent

As mentioned, a large portion of cryptojacking attacks begins with a phishing scam or other form of social engineering. So, the first line of defense is for everyone in your organization to be aware of the threat and on guard for suspicious email content and links.

But even the most cautious individuals can still make mistakes, so you need to take that into account when defining your security plan. To start, make sure your organization has a strong virtual private network (VPN) solution to handle remote access. With a VPN client, you lower your risk of being hacked through a public wi-fi network and potentially compromising your machine.

Next, consider investing in advanced technology that is specially designed to protect against mining malware. You will find a range of intelligent monitoring tools that can study the traffic on your local network and pinpoint the potential areas of concerns and vulnerabilities.

The bottom line

Above all else, make sure you have a plan for how to react if a cryptojacking attack is identified. In general, the first goal is to isolate the affected machine from the rest of the network, so it won’t spread. With that complete, install a recent hard drive backup from a point in time before the malware existed.

You do have a regular backup process, don’t you? If not, you should be running to find one because if you have had a good fortune not to be hacked yet, it’s not because the bad guys aren’t trying.

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