Your Computer May be Mining for Cryptocurrency Without Your Knowledge

Last updated on October 11, 2018 Views: 547 Comments: 12

Cryptocurrency has increased dramatically in popularity over the last year, and that’s great news for crypto investors – but it’s also inspired a new wave of hacking, known as ‘ Cryptojacking.’ It’s the latest hacking trend: hackers can install cryptocurrency mining malware on your device and turn it into a crypto mine without your knowledge or consent. Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself against this new online menace – and here’s what you need to know.

How Bitcoin has Grown Over the Past Year

In 2017, Bitcoin grew from an underground cryptocurrency into a major, worldwide phenomenon. At the start of the year, a single bitcoin was worth a paltry $800. Fast forward to December 2107, and Bitcoin is worth close to $20,000.

Its meteoric rise is due to a number of factors. First, Bitcoin became an icon, and people began buying it in droves – with others feeling as if they were missing out if they didn’t get on board with the Bitcoin trend. Many online retailers and e-commerce sites soon began embracing the popularity of Bitcoin for online payments. People have even sold their houses and cars in return for Bitcoin.

As a result, Bitcoin mining became a profitable enterprise. Giant Bitcoin farms were set up in Russia and China, and even mainstream investors began to get involved. Unfortunately, the incredible rise of Bitcoin attracted many hackers and thieves. Cryptocurrency exchanges were hacked, and millions of dollars worth of Bitcoins were stolen.

Cryptocurrency Mining Explained

Cryptocurrency mining is the process used to release new bitcoins onto the market. Bitcoins are ‘guarded’ by complex math puzzles and computer hardware is required to solve them. The more people try to mine Bitcoin, the harder these puzzles become. As a result, cryptocurrency mining has become far more difficult and expensive. Back in 2011, regular gaming laptops were able to mine Bitcoins, but nowadays, it requires powerful and expensive hardware.

Cryptocurrency mining is very profitable, and thousands of people worldwide have invested large sums of money into this new enterprise. The process is fully automated and just needs to be set up in advance, before stepping back and let the machines go to work. However, not every aspiring miner has the resources to set up a mining rig. Therefore, people have begun ‘cryptojacking’ to illicitly harvest Bitcoins.

What is Cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is broadly defined as the illicit use of your computing device to mine Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. Cryptojacking victims are often unaware that their device is being used. Hackers just need to install cryptocurrency mining malware on your computer and it will begin to mine automatically. You may notice your computer slowing down significantly, but you won’t realize what’s going on. Once the cryptocurrency is mined, it is then funneled back to the hacker’s digital wallet, and the victim remains blissfully unaware that their computer was used for criminal activity.

In some cases, the hacker doesn’t have to install anything at all. For example, in-browser cryptojacking uses JavaScript codes to infiltrate your device and use it to mine cryptocurrencies. Hackers were caught using various video streaming sites which use JavaScript to hack people’s devices. As soon as the unsuspecting victim enters these unsecured sites and loads a video, the hacker is able to infiltrate their device and put it to work.

Public Wi-Fi is another method used by hackers. In December 2017, customers at a Starbucks in Buenos Aires noticed a slight delay when connecting to the store’s public Wi-Fi server. One customer decided to investigate, ultimately finding malicious code CoinHive (a JavaScript code used to mine Moreno) mysteriously installed on his device. He immediately notified Starbucks via Twitter, and the undercover mining operation was promptly shut down.

Unfortunately, and even though this is a pretty extreme example, many public Wi-Fi networks across the globe have been hacked, and if you’ve ever connected to a public Wi-Fi network, there’s a slim chance that your device may well be mining cryptocurrencies as you read this!

How to Prevent Your Device From Being Hacked

Now we’ve had cryptojacking and cryptocurrency mining explained, you need to know how to defend yourself against this new threat.

First, you should quickly check to see if your device(s) have been targeted by web-criminals. To do this, open the resource manager on your device and check if your device performance is unusually high. If it is, try closing all browsers and programs. If it’s still abnormally high, you’re probably a victim of cryptojacking.

The simplest way to defend yourself is to install a verified browser extension. AdBlock for Chrome should protect your device from most surreptitious plugins and in-browser malware. More advanced solutions include NoCoin, AntiMiner, and Anti WebMiner. Before installing any plugins or add-ons, make sure they are legit and verified.

It’s also advisable to avoid using public W-iFi networks. If you have to use one, at least block JavaScript from running. Also, turn off JavaScript whenever you visit an unsecured website. Torrenting sites, such as The Pirate Bay, and illegal streaming sites, are a hotbed for cryptojacking activity. Take precautions whenever you visit these sites: switch off JavaScript, install the relevant browser extensions, and make sure your network is secure. Another solution is to use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is a private, secure network which you connect to via a regular network. The VPNs offer enhanced security, IP masking, and geo-spoofing. If you’re torrenting or using a public Wi-Fi network, be sure to use a VPN as its additional security features will protect you against cryptojacking and other cyber attacks.

The Bottom Line

Unlike other forms of malware, cryptojacking doesn’t steal your payment information or identity. However, this does not make it any less of a threat. It can seriously damage your device, and overwork it so that it becomes practically unusable. Follow our suggested strategies to defend your device, and exercise caution when visiting unsafe websites.

Suggested Readings:

Best VPN for Bitcoin
What is Blockchain and What You Need to Be Aware of?

Article comments

12 comments
Geoff says:

Cryptojacked sounds like a rubbish Marvel villain, but it does seem like a legit fear to have if you browse too many websites that aren’t secure

Douglas says:

What’s so funny about most cryptojacking is that it relies on one of two things. Either 1.) they have to have users that stay on the site a long time or 2.) they have to have a boatload of users to make the micromining profitable to them. One good way to stop cryptojacking is shut down sites when you’re done with them. Most mining code requires the page to stay open in some form in order to continue the mining process.

xander lopez says:

This cryptocurrency boom won’t last. Ive been mining since 2012 and it goes up and down all the time. theres actually nothing wrong with having your computer hijacked for mining as it does not damage to the device (bar maybe slowing down the system a bit). If you do want to avoid it then I agree then a virtual private network is a good way to go. However this will only help on public networks. if you download is as malware through a malicious online source then it won’t be anything. i think you should also recomend an antivirus so your readers will be fully protected

Tori says:

I have some questions after reading this article:

Is there anywhere I can go to learn more about bitcoin, so I can understand why I might want to invest?

After reading this, I’m still unclear as to whether I’m at risk even if I don’t have bitcoin? Is my system still vulnerable to this type of hacking? Could these hackers use my system to find other victims?

ST Editor says:

Hi, and thanks for the question! There are several great sources online to help you get started with understanding bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general, which will point you in the right direction. As for the article, your computer is at risk even if you don’t have bitcoin because the cryptojacking software they use can be disguised in almost any other application that you wouldn’t think twice about installing. To answer your last question, there is always a risk that hackers may use your system, but generally their efforts are less targeted as they are casting a wide net. Hope this helps!

Adam R. says:

Hey great article about what to do to not get hacked but it doesn’t say anything about what I should do if I think I’ve already been hacked? How would I even know that was happening? Is there anything that can help with that? Thanks!

ST Editor says:

Thanks! We appreciate your concern about being hacked. Usually, running a deep malware scan will reveal any malicious software running on your computer, such as a mining application. You can also easily detect it if your CPU suddenly seems to be doing much more work than normal (you can check this by right-clicking on your Start Bar and selecting your task manager). There are also good applications online for browsers that can prevent you from being attacked. Let us know if this works for you!

vishwajeet mohite says:

This information is nice to the computer users

Lucas says:

Your article is well written, but you don’t say how you can find out if your phone has been cryptojacked, only tips for prevention. How can I look to see if my phone is mining bitcoin?

ST Editor says:

That’s a really great question! Generally speaking, there isn’t a clear smoking gun that can let you know if you’ve been cryptojacked. Unfortunately for us, most malware is made to run silently in the background without showing up in task lists. However, there are some indications you can look for. The first is checking your phone’s CPU and data usage. Mining requires processing power, so your phone being unresponsive or laggy could be a clear indicator. Additionally, your battery draining uncharacteristically fast or not charging properly can also be a sign. You can always download antivirus software–you can read more about great options on our site–and run a scan to make sure, but these are great first steps towards fixing the problem. Let us know how you resolve the issue!

Elena says:

What’s an easy way to tell if my phone is being used to mine for cryptocurrency without me knowing?

ST Editor says:

Excellent question! While there’s no one clear sign that you’ve been cryptojacked, there are a few red flags you can search for. The first is to examine your phone’s CPU usage in your settings. Unusual spikes or a long period of high activity are signs that your phone is being used for mining. This will also show up as your phone acting slower or being unresponsive. Another indicator to keep an eye out for is your phone’s battery. If it’s draining quickly or not charging fully, you may have been hacked. The easiest way to tell, however, is to install an antivirus software and run a full scan, which can find hidden applications. Hopefully, this helps!