Cybercrime is a $600 billion a year industry. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s more than five times the net worth of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and current richest man in the world, and just under Amazon’s annual revenue. Gone are the days of the Internet wild west where cybercriminals were like Jesse James, fighting for their principles and even revered for it sometimes. Now cybercrime is like the mafia — more organized and very much a business. And for a while, ransomware was the weapon of choice, the Tommy Gun, if you will, for cybercriminals.
By now most people are, or at least should be, aware of ransomware — the malware that propagates through networks encrypting data and demanding payment (often in cryptocurrency) in return for the decryption key. Ransomware attacks are estimated to be responsible for over $5 billion in damages and peaked in 2016. However, recent reports show the popularity of ransomware is on the decline (up to 35%) so far in 2018. But don’t breath a sigh of relief just yet; the reason for this decline seems to be cybercriminals ditching ransomware en masse in favor of cryptojacking.
“Cryptocurrency mining is such a lucrative business that malware creators and distributors all over the world are drawn to it like moths to a flame,” the report says.
Cryptojacking is a fairly new type of attack that covertly steals an infected device’s computing resources for the purpose of mining cryptocurrencies. For those that are really out of the loop: cryptocurrency is “a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank”. Well, that’s the fly-by overview at least. I won’t get into the details in this article, but if you are curious you can read this.
Cryptojacking’s rise to prominence is nothing short of meteoric, with up to 8500% increase in reported infections in certain demographics. Unlike its predecessor, ransomware, which made its presence very aware to the end user, cryptojacking malware is designed to go undetected. This makes it quite a bit more troublesome as many users may not even know they’re infected until their computer slows to a crawl or overheats. This means cryptojacking has the potential to cause more damage over a longer period of time compared to ransomware.
The best steps toward prevention of a cryptojacking infection include user education, keeping security software updated, and installing anti-cryptomining browser extensions (as a very common delivery vector is browser hi-jacking). As is always the case in cyber-security, practicing safe browsing habits can prevent a good portion of would-be cryptojacking infections.
Stay tuned for more security insights from Netris.
Brian Dunham is a Cisco and Microsoft certified network and systems engineer with over a decade of experience in the Information Technology field. When he is not in front of a computer he can be found out in the wilderness canoing, hiking, fishing, or camping.