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One Key Reason for a Slow Computer…‘Crypto-jacking’!

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Crypto-jacking is a term used to describe the secret hijacking of your device, to ‘mine’ for cryptocurrency. I know, stay with me. I just said a whole load of stuff that doesn’t make any sense but bear with me here…Cryptocurrency is a digital currency you can buy and sell over the internet. You may have heard of ‘Bitcoin’? This was the first cryptocurrency but thousands of others now exist. I’m not going to even attempt to explain bitcoin mining because, well, it’s just inherently complicated and would pad out this post with tens of pages of eye-glazing-over dross and nobody wants that! All we need to know is why cryptojacking is a threat for families and what we can do to protect ourselves against it.

Much like malware and ransomware there is a lot of money to be made in bitcoin mining. In 2017, research found an 8,500% rise in crypto-jacking attacks from 2016 [1]. This rise is down to the explosion in popularity for cryptocurrencies, which has caused a subsequent explosion in their value. This makes creating (or ‘mining’ as it is known) bitcoins highly profitable. To ‘mine’ bitcoin you need a lot of computing power and supercomputers don’t come cheap! Therefore, cyber criminals have found ways to compromise devices of people like you and me, creating huge networks of hacked devices (called ‘botnets’) and using the accumulated computer power of all those devices combined to create bitcoins. In essence, by creating a ‘botnet’ cyber criminals make their own supercomputers to print their own money!

The term botnet is a mix of ‘robot’ and ‘network’ – in essence, computers within a botnet are compromised by malware and then used remotely by hackers for various nefarious purposes. When a device is compromised and becomes part of a botnet, our computers are referred to as ‘zombies’ because that’s exactly what they act like! They are secretly controlled from afar over the internet to do whatever the hacker’s bidding is without the owner of the device knowing a thing.

Why is this a problem for parents?

Aside from being infected with malware which can have a whole different set of problems, the impact of being compromised by a cryptojacker is that your computer will be cripplingly slow as its processing power is being taken up by the greedy bitcoin mining that the cyber criminal is having it do!

What’s more, the problem is on the rise! The number of identified botnets has grown from 1500 to 3500 in the last two years [2]. The director of the FBI’s cyber division, Joseph Demarest, reports that every second 18 computers worldwide are consumed into a botnet, which amounts to over 500 million compromised computers per year ! Botnets are particularly troublesome for the authorities to deal with because they can only be stopped once every single computer within it has been cleansed and some botnets can contain tens of thousands of computers.

How much do criminals make from crypto-mining?!

To give you an idea of how much money is in it for the crims, a research company found that a famous botnet called ‘Monero’, which was designed specifically to compromise people’s computers to mine for cryptocurrency, would make the operators an average of $8,500 (£6,000) per week …which equates to about £72,000 per year!

How do we protect ourselves?

The good news is that it is real simple. Just take two simple steps;

1. Install a decent anti-virus software.

The simplest way to protect ourselves is to have a decent anti-virus software installed on our devices (BitDefender is my recommendation, Avast is a good free alternative). See here on what makes a decent anti-virus program and what devices to install it on! If you suspect you might have fallen victim to crypto-jacking, just run a scan using your anti-virus software and it should detect it.

If it doesn’t detect anything, follow my guidance provided for “Spyware & Grayware” in the ‘I’ve Been Hacked’ manual at www.simplecyberlife.com. Following these steps will perform a much more in-depth scan of your device to detect anything nefarious. If it still doesn’t find anything, cryptojacking is unlikely the reason for your device being slow. Check out this post on slow performing devices to find out what might be causing your device to be slow.

2. Install a Cryptojacking Browser Extension (optional).

If you have been struck by cryptojacking before, it might be a good idea for the belt-and-braces approach and install a cryptojacking blocker extension into your browser like ‘NoCoin’ (for Chrome and Firefox). This will help you from being infected again.

A pretty technical topic I know! If you do have any questions, just leave a comment and I’ll ensure I get an answer back to you as soon as possible!

 

References:

[1] https://www.symantec.com/security-center/threat-report

[2] https://www.pcworld.com/article/170546/how_to_clean_bots.html

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