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Are you the victim of a cryptocurrency miner?

Here’s how to know for sure – and how to stop them from stealing your devices.

cryptocurrency mining
Image: PC Tech Magazine

While you might be focusing on keeping your devices – particularly your IoT devices – safe from emerging ransomware like Bad Rabbit or botnets like Reaper, your favorite tech might already be compromised by a sneakier, more sinister form of malware: cryptocurrency miners. Unlike other forms of malware, which loudly and proudly proclaim their presence, cryptocurrency miners want to stay hidden, allowing you to use your devices as usual for months or years without finding the malware.

Still, this isn’t a victimless crime; cryptocurrency miners require significant resources from your hardware, which means energy usage is drastically increased while device usability decreases substantially. If your devices have been running slower of late or your energy bills have been outrageously high, you might already be suffering from the effects of cryptocurrency mining malware on your devices. Here’s how to know for sure – and how to stop them from stealing your devices.

First, a Lesson on Cryptocurrency

If you are unfamiliar with the concept or value of cryptocurrency, you likely find it unendingly odd that cybercriminals would bother to infiltrate strangers’ computers only to mine seemingly digital money. Thus, to fully understand the threat of mining malware, you need a crash course in cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency is digital money designed to be secure and anonymous. Unlike other currencies, cryptocurrencies cannot be counterfeited or stolen through fraud or identity theft. Cryptocurrencies can be sent anywhere at any time without delays or hidden fees. Even better, a single unit of cryptocurrency could be worth several hundred (or several thousand) U.S. dollars.

Bitcoin

There are more than 700 cryptocurrencies – because they are decentralized, or not issued by governments or financial institutions – but only a handful are readily traded. Undoubtedly, you have heard of Bitcoin, which was the first cryptocurrency developed, but other popular options include Litecoin, Dogecoin, and Monero. Each cryptocurrency is created through a unique cryptographic algorithm, maintained by a network of computers or specialized hardware that processes and validates the transactions – an action popularly called mining.

Mining is hard on computers, typically requiring processors and graphics cards to run under a full load at all times. As you might guess, this significantly shortens the lifespan of the hardware and inhibits its use for other activities. Though miners are getting money from their computation investment, they do have to pay for their hardware and electricity – unless they steal it.

Using the same tactics for infiltrating networks and computers – i.e., malicious messages and downloads, corrupted advertisements and links, etc. – criminals can gain access to your computer, secretly install a mining program, and utilize your resources to make money. As a result, your CPU usage skyrockets, slowing performance on programs you want to use, degrading your hardware, and hoisting your energy bills to the heavens.

Increase in Cryptocurrency Mining Malware

While Bitcoin demands absurd amounts of computational power to produce – even requiring enormous data centers containing thousands of mining machines to produce 50 Bitcoins every 10 minutes or so – other cryptocurrencies aren’t so needy. If you are the victim of cryptocurrency malware, it’s most likely that your hacker is interested in obtaining Monero, which has an exchange rate of about 120 USD as of this writing. Monero is easier to generate than Bitcoin and others, so cybercriminals can spread mining malware that eats up less CPU usage and largely flies under users’ radar. Plus, Monero is surging in value, making it an excellent investment for greedy criminals.

servers

Fortunately, your situation isn’t hopeless. If you believe you are the victim of cryptocurrency mining, you should take pains to make your machine as secure as possible. This means installing credible antivirus software, updating your device with the latest patches, strengthening your device’s credentials to prevent unauthorized access, enabling firewalls, and being aware of attack vectors, such as dubious links, files, applications, and emails.

It’s unlikely that cryptocurrency mining malware will fall out of favor with the black hat crowd. Some security firms suspect that more than 500 million computers are already infected with mining malware. Security experts have noticed that mining malware is becoming more advanced. Some mining programs will pause when users are performing intensive tasks or when users are monitoring their system resources – making them even harder to detect. Tools like these will encourage criminals to continue spreading malware and profiting with little risk.

To prevent your computer from being part of the problem, you should protect yourself today from cryptocurrency miners. Then, if you want to start mining your own cryptocurrency, you have the resources to do so on your own.

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