Earlier last year, we reported on a problem called cryptojacking, which could have been slowing down smartphone owners’ devices. But to understand exactly what that is, you need to understand what a cryptocurrency is. Here’s what we had to say on the subject back in 2018:

Cryptocurrency is a relatively new concept, which involves using a computer to ‘mine’ for coins. There are diverse types of currencies, with new ones surfacing all the time. Computer-savvy people can use their hardware to mine for coins, which involves using the computer to verify and process transactions within a specific currency.
However, legitimately mining for such coins is an intensive process. With the explosion in popularity of cryptocurrencies, it now takes thousands of processors working together in unison to achieve even a worthwhile sum of money. This results in huge expenses in both hardware acquisition and electricity costs for running the computers.”

At the time, it was discovered that hackers could be utilising unsuspecting users’ devices to mine for cryptocurrency. Malicious software could easily be embedded in a rogue application that has been designed to look like a genuine smartphone app, then uploaded to the Google Play store to proliferate. This risk would be more palpable on an Android device, as iPhones are far harder to crack with malicious software, thanks in part to Apple’s strict policies around third-party development.

It’s difficult to get your head around, but the practice does not actually involve stealing anything that belongs to you, as you never owned the currency. But the fact that your machine’s processing power is harnessed without your consent to generate the currency means that it’s classed as fraud — and is therefore illegal. Well, now new research data has come to light, which shows the full extent of how far the cryptojacking problem has spread. Read on to find out more.

New research shows extent of issue

Within the last couple of years, hijacking a computer to mine Bitcoin was popular among unscrupulous hackers. But the focus has recently shifted more to another type of digital coin called Monero, a similar currency that is much easier to ‘cash out’. And researchers have now discovered that the scam has rounded up more than £40 million across the globe in the past 11-12 years.

The research was conducted by two researchers from King’s College London and Madrid’s Carlos III University. And the findings, published to a site called ArXiv, examined a massive 4.4 types of malware used to initiate cryptojacking. The findings showed how one of the more successful practices had generated approximately $18 million since June 2016.

Safeguarding your devices

As mentioned above, you’re not actually having any currency stolen from you if you become a victim of cryptojacking. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be detrimental to you or your devices. The massive strain placed on your machine’s processor could wear out your device far more quickly, as well as generating greater utility bills. So here are the basic principles to follow, which will help to safeguard you.

  • Hackers may attempt to infect your machine using malicious email messages with embedded links. Alternatively, the emails could have malicious attachments. Avoid clicking any such links, or opening or downloading attachments. And consider an antivirus to scan any attachments before you access them, in case you do receive genuine documents over email from time to time.
  • Don’t blindly wander onto any strange websites that you’re unfamiliar with. Stick to well-known or official websites that you’ve used before. If you’re buying new goods and services, try to avoid unknown websites that have few reviews.
  • Keep all your devices up to date with the latest security patches so that you’re protected against the newest threats and exploits. This applies to antivirus software, as well as any security updates that come through from Microsoft if you’re a Windows user, and Apple if you’re a Mac user.

As you can see, it’s the same basic advice we’d recommend when you’re surfing online in general. Scammers target victims using the same types of methods, regardless of whether they’re phishing for financial data or trying to infect your machine with cryptojacking software. So stay vigilant and don’t go doing anything we wouldn’t do. With the massive gains to be had from such a scam, it’s likely that things are going to get worse before they get better.

And if you’d like any advice on exactly what to do if you think your machine is running more slowly than usual, get in touch with WiseGuys on 0808 123 2820. We can help you to diagnose whether your machine might be sluggish due to being compromised by cryptojacking software. Stay safe!