What is cryptojacking and how to avoid it

The rise of cryptocurrency has opened up possibilities for anonymous monetary transactions. Unfortunately, the opportunities opened up for for online criminals, too. 

Cryptojacking means stealing unsuspecting computers’ processing power to mine for cryptocurrency. It is a portmanteau of cryptocurrency and hijacking.

The rise of cryptojacking

Cryptocurrency has been on the rise in the recent years, so it’s no surprise that cybercriminals have taken interest in it. New currency is created by using computing power to “mine” cryptocurrency coins. To simplify a bit, if you have a lot of electricity and computing power at your disposal, you can turn it into cryptocurrency.

The way to get a lot of computing power and electricity powering it for free is to steal it. Getting unauthorized access to unsuspecting people’s computers is what cryptojacking essentially is. The criminal scams people into installing malware that mines cryptocurrency in the background, eating up resources and driving up the electricity bill.

How to stay safe from cryptojacking

Cryptojacking software is fundamentally just another form of malware. The differentiating factor is that the payload is a process running in the background. So from a internet security suite’s point of view it is nothing special.

The way to stay safe from cryptojacking malware is to have an up-to-date internet security suite that will protect you from all sorts of malicious software, including cryptojacking malware.

Drive-by cryptomining

A less drastic version of cryptojacking is browser-based cryptojacking which is also called drive-by cryptomining. Some sites are mining cryptocurrency on a JavaScript while you are on that site. That alone is not producing a lot for the site’s owner, so some have resorted in even more sketchy tactics. They open up a hidden pop up window behind the current browser window and keep mining after the user leaves the site. Even that doesn’t add up to much with one site only, so some have taken it up a notch: hacked other sites to include that same window. Now they’re getting some scale.

Fortunately drive-by cryptomining is not persistent, so it stops as soon as you shut down your browser. If you notice your browser suddenly taking up your computer’s resources, restart it. (Note that there are numerous other valid reasons why your browser could do this, so 100% CPU load doesn’t mean somebody is mining on your computer.)

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