Cryptocurrency Miners: What Is It and Why Is It a Threat?

Posted on Posted in Cybersecurity, Insights

The cyber world has seen major developments over the last few years.  Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have emerged since 20 and financial instruments using cryptocurrencies have made their appearance. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 400 cryptocurrencies in operation.  China has recently announced a state-supported cryptocurrency.

As might be expected, we have also seen a rise in desktop and mobile apps that trade in cryptocurrency.  Some are reputable, but many are not.  They can also act as portals into systems to enable ID theft and theft of financial information leading to losses in “real” currency.

The rise of tradeable currencies and their associated apps has brought new challenges to IT Security and Online Security.  One such is cryptocurrency mining.

What is Cryptocurrency?


Wikipedia defines cryptocurrency as “A digital currency designed to work as a medium of exchange through a computer network that is not reliant on any central authority, such as a government or bank, to uphold or maintain it”.

Cryptocurrency, sometimes referred to as a digital asset, relies on decentralised encrypted computer networks to carry out transactions.

Some countries have banned cryptocurrency altogether, and only two, as of 2022 accept it as legal tender.

As of 2022, the overall market capitalisation of cryptocurrencies was about $1.8 trillion, mostly in Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The Dangers of Cryptocurrencies


Having large amounts of money available in cryptocurrency has made them attractive to thieves.  The theft of around 650,000 Bitcoin ($380 Million) from the Mt. Gox exchange caused its bankruptcy.  The Ronin Network lost $614 Million to theft and is the largest known hack to date.   In both cases, users never saw their money.   There are many other smaller similar incidents.

Corporate and home users need to step up their IT and Online Security to protect against hackers.

Whether cryptocurrencies are proper “money” or not is the subject of a heated debate.  Some economists argue that they are not true currencies in the same way as traditional currencies such as dollars or euros.   They are not used to buy and sell goods and services, and their values fluctuate far too wildly.  Finally, they conclude that they are not a currency of record, because very few goods or services are denominated in cryptocurrencies.

Commercial Bitcoin mining operations use several thousand computers with optimised hardware to continuously mine Bitcoin.  A final point is that as a result, Bitcoin mining uses about 0.5% of the global electricity supply.

The opposing view is that because they have only been around for 10 years or so, cryptocurrencies are not yet mature in user awareness as a concept or in the technology needed to support them.

What is Cryptocurrency Mining


Your web browser can be used for cryptocurrency mining through a process known as browser-based mining.  Browser-based mining works by using JavaScript code embedded in a website to run the mining process on the user’s computer. When a user visits a website with this code, their web browser will start running the mining process in the background without their knowledge. This process can consume significant amounts of computing resources, causing the user’s computer to slow down or overheat.

Why Cryptocurrency Mining can be an IT and Online Security Threat


Bitcoin mining is used to scam users.  They are diverted to fake websites where they pay to join up, and perhaps see their Investment grow, but cannot withdraw their account balance or withdraw it, but never see it in their account.

A variation of mining is cryptojacking, the unauthorized use of a user’s computing power to mine cryptocurrency without their knowledge or consent.

Again,  this indicates the need to update Online and IT Security.

Cryptojacking is often carried out by cybercriminals who exploit vulnerabilities in websites or use phishing tactics to trick users into visiting a malicious website. To protect your computer from browser-based mining, you can use a browser extension or add-on that blocks scripts used for cryptojacking.

In addition, cryptojacking can be used as a means of stealing information from a home computer or for gaining entry to a corporate network, again with the intention of stealing Intellectual Property or financial information.

How to Protect Against Cryptojacking


It is essential to keep your web browser and operating system up to date with the latest security patches to prevent vulnerabilities that can be exploited for cryptojacking.  Avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading files from untrusted sources, as these can be used to install malware on your computer that includes cryptojacking software.

In summary, while your web browser can be used for cryptocurrency mining, it is typically done without your knowledge or consent through a process known as cryptojacking. To protect your computer from cryptojacking, use a script-blocking extension or add-on, keep your software up to date, and avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading files from untrusted sources.

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