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Is crypto mining the next cyber threat?

Cryptocurrencies have come a long way from the initial emergence of Bitcoin. In fact, the meteoric rise of its value last year, coupled with JP Morgan venture into the space and Fakebook’s imminent launch, means that mainstream awareness is at an all-time high. However, whilst this may the case, uptake of cryptocurrencies hasn’t been in its masses, with the genre of currency still plagued by its past criminal association.

But it’s not just the dark corners of society where criminals lie; for years hackers have been using their ransomware techniques to extort money through cryptocurrencies from individuals and organisations alike. For criminals, one of the biggest reasons for using a cryptocurrency is the anonymity and privacy aspect that comes with it; ideal for moving funds away from the eyes of the law.

This increasing need by criminals to use cryptocurrencies for private purposes has now led them to either cut out the middleman entirely, or use them to gain access to the currency another way through crypto mining; a threat that many businesses need to be aware of.

Stealing resources

Crypto mining is essentially when a hacker steals a company’s compute, data storage and network resources and uses them to mine cryptocurrencies. This means those resources are being used to execute on the enterprise business strategy. At best, it results in just extra cost for the business for more storage use or computing power. At worst, a business can find itself with critical tasks not being completed due to resource being spent elsewhere, increasing the risk to the business itself.

Largely delivered through phishing emails, malware is downloaded onto unpatched computers with remote access and default username and password accounts. What’s particularly important, and why it’s becoming an increasingly used method, is there’s no need to gain administrator privileges in order to run a crypto mining app. Essentially, it lowers the barrier to entry for hackers that they’d normally have to go through for other ransomware attacks.

Fighting back

One of the biggest worries for businesses is that crypto mining can be hard to spot. It’s not as simple as identifying when data has been taken, as essentially all a hacker is doing is using company resources. What businesses should look out for is applications taking longer to work or are not as reliable as before, or simply seeing more network traffic meaning things take longer to download.

Besides identifying when an attack might be taking place, the focus really should be on prevention. Interestingly, while it might seem like a complicated thing to try and defend against, businesses don’t really need to do anything complicated, they just need to ensure they’re doing the basics well.

This means keeping all computers (both laptops and servers) patched and up to date with the most current security fixes. Whilst changing default passwords to new, more complicated passwords is one option, the best solution is to implement a one-time password that automatically generates a fresh password every time. With a limited shelf-life, the password will be rendered useless after a certain time to potential hackers that might come across it and try to use it.

On top of this, businesses should also consider implementing two-factor authentication into their systems to ensure only those authorised to access a system, can do so. This involves two parts to access entry – something you have like an email address and something you know like a unique code.

For those that have already been infected, if the crypto mining malware is well understood and known about, there’s a chance antivirus software would be able to remove it. However, for those that are not so lucky, it’s essential to have a fall-back option of reinstalling the machine in place. This means data must be backed up and data restorations tested. The operating system needs to be under configuration control too, so the security teams know the baseline configuration and installation levels.

A crypto future – to be or not to be, the security threat is there

It remains to be seen whether cryptocurrencies become ever more mainstream, but what’s clear is businesses are facing a growing threat from hackers desperate to get their hands on them. As well as watching out for traditional attacks, businesses must be wary of the increasing number of avenues hacker will go down to secure their bounty. So, next time a application takes a while to load or keeps crashing, check the system as their may be a crypto miner hidden amongst the workforce.


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