Though their exchange rates continue to fluctuate wildly, Bitcoin, Monero, and other cryptocurrencies have skyrocketed in value in recent months. Well aware of that fact, cybercriminals have been churning out huge volumes of “cryptomining” exploits that use the processing power of ordinary PCs and servers to surreptitiously generate digital riches.
“It’s taking the place of ransomware now,” says Marc Laliberte, a security analyst at Seattle-based WatchGuard Technologies Inc. “They’re constantly in the top 10 detected threats we see every day.”
The reason why isn’t hard to figure out either, he continues. Ransomware is a one-and-done crime that generates a single chunk of income. Cryptomining is the illicit gift that keeps on giving.
“You can sit there hidden for days, months, maybe even years—we’ll see—and slowly siphon off computing power to have a constant revenue stream,” Laliberte says.
The problem isn’t going away any time soon as long as long as digital currencies continue trading at tantalizingly high prices, according to Adam Kujawa, director of malware intelligence at Malwarebytes Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif. That’s not all bad news either, he adds. Encrypting data, after all, is far more harmful to businesses than stealing their processing power.
“I tell a lot of people if this is the only type of malware I ever deal with again, I’ll be happy,” Kujawa says, especially since most cryptomining programs are relatively easy to detect at present.
“They’re very loud,” Kujawa notes, mostly because the people writing them tend to be experts in cryptomining rather than virus-writing. The problem is what happens in the future when that’s no longer true.
“We think that if the value of cryptocurrencies continues to be worth it, then the criminals are going to develop more dangerous types of miners,” Kujawa predicts, include rootkit infections and other silent, well-hidden threats. Worse yet, he continues, hackers will eventually use the back doors they opened when deploying cryptomining code to perpetrate more nefarious attacks.
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