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Illicit mining software: Beware of cryptomining

Between 2017 and 2018 the cost of Bitcoins rose by over one thousand percent. This rapid growth has raised the cryptocurrency trend to the height of general and not just specialist interest, along with the ways in which digital currencies can be mined. It all starts with the concept of ‘mining’, i.e. obtaining various coins through complex processes that computers and actual server farms are put through. Bitcoin mining, however, involves a number of security risks. How?

Extracting cryptocurrencies is similar to working in a real mine: you keep digging until you hit gold. Except that instead of manual labor, the gains here depend on the time you put in and the processing power of your computer. All the ‘miners’ (as they’re called) do is use software to record transactions that take place in the currency, and at the same time solve the mathematical calculations that enable small parts of Bitcoin or any other surrogate to be obtained. So what are the risks?

Mining is getting harder and more demanding

As digital currency matures, mining has become ever more demanding. At first, users could extract the data on their home computer and gain a reasonable amount of digital money, but the mathematical problems subsequently became so complicated that you needed a considerable amount of computing power to do it. And this is where the risks come in. Because miners are using an increasing amount of electricity to make money, some of them are starting to compromise public wifi networks in order to access connected third-party devices, including mobile devices, to extract bitcoins. The most recent case relates to a bar in Buenos Aires, where the private network was infected by malware that caused a 10-second delay when connecting – a period of time that third parties could use to enter users’ laptops and carry out their mining activities. In practice, a person may not notice anything other than the longer time it takes to navigate and use various programs, which is due to a third party using the power for calculations to extract money.

As well as public wifi networks, millions of websites have been compromised by laptops, computers, smartphones and tablets being violated for the purposes of mining. The problem is so widespread that over 1 billion terminals are now thought to have been slowed down due to cryptomining – occupying the memory to extract money elsewhere. And that’s not all; in addition to the slowdown, it has been proven that overloading a smartphone (or laptop or any other access point) can cause the battery to overheat and, in theory, lead to material damage within a short space of time.

Illicit extraction software transmitted by malware and viruses also poses indirect risks for users. Some botnets distribute native mining software that accesses the underlying operating system and thereby the machine’s most sensitive tasks. Compromising the OS entails problems of various kinds, transmitting spear phishing or cryptolocker campaigns for example, which generate thousands of euros worth of profit for hackers and crackers every day.

What can you do to stay protected?

Is there any way to defend yourself? Yes. Avoid using public wifi networks. They’re often unprotected, exposing your device and your information to any number of risks. Also, use a VPN software such as Avira Phantom VPN, which provides secure connection to the web that does not allow third parties to intercept or read data. Finally, all connected devices should be protected when in use. New threats are constantly emerging, raising a number of questions about what more should be done to make cryptocurrency mining as legitimate as possible.

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Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.