Of all the modern cyberthreats enterprise IT managers have on their radar, cryptojacking is most often dismissed as a low-tier priority. While the practice does not have as many immediate risks as malware or ransomware attacks, it can lead to serious device and network performance issues if left unchecked. To prevent costly inefficiencies, corporate security personnel have started to take a closer look at the specific consequences of large-scale crypto-mining operations, though it can be helpful to start with the basics.
What is cryptojacking?
According to CSO, cryptojacking refers to the "unauthorized use of someone else's computer to mine cryptocurrency." Over the past few years, digital currencies have become increasingly popular, leading many tech-minded entrepreneurs to develop new methods for making a profit. Cryptocurrencies are created using computer programs that require a lot of operating power, often much more than a single device can produce. All transactions are recorded on the "blockchain," a peer-to-peer network that timestamps every monetary interaction as a hash-based proof of work. While there are a variety of different cryptocurrencies on the market, Bitcoin is considered the most valuable, though it has become difficult to mine of late, due to its popularity and the massive processing power involved.
In its 2018 Internet Security Threat Report, Symantec outlined two primary methods used to mine cryptocurrencies on personal and business computers:
The consequences of cryptojacking
Compared to other more aggressive forms of cybercrime that cause immediate damage and financial harm, cryptojacking may sound like a benign threat. While it's true that most coin mining scripts do not harm computers or steal users' data, they often severely impact the overall performance of personal and business devices. Cryptojacking saps CPU processing resources to support its coin mining operations, slowing down the execution of programs and applications in the process. Consumers may consider this a minor inconvenience, but enterprise organizations can suffer notable losses in the form of increased IT support tickets, higher electrical bills and decreased productivity.
Generally speaking, the presence of cryptocurrency-mining malware in an organization's IT infrastructure points to broader issues with its cybersecurity protocols. As a 2019 article from Info Security Magazine pointed out, a vast majority of illicit crypto mining programs capitalize on poor cybersecurity hygiene and inefficient patch management to infiltrate and spread throughout enterprise networks. Researchers from Check Point found that close to 55% of organizations were impacted by the activities of crypto miners, with the following malware programs standing as the most common culprits:
Using these (and other) malware tools, crypto miners are able to link several disparate computers and mobile devices into a massive botnet, which is much more profitable than using browser-based mining tactics. According to Symantec, cybercriminals operating a botnet of 100,000 devices could generate up to $750,000 by mining cryptocurrencies in just 30 days, compared to $30,000 for operations of equal size that rely on web browser scripts. It's clear that cryptojacking is a lucrative form of cybercrime that will likely continue to expand over the next decade. To keep pace with existing and emergent crypto-mining tactics, companies must deploy robust system and network security protocols that can identify vulnerabilities and remove malicious code before it spreads.
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