Whether it is for a sudden spike in the price of Bitcoin or any other coin or their decline thereof, or the regulations and the debates on it, these digital assets and the market space is always in the news.
One such significant issue is regarding illegal crypto mining.
Illegal crypto mining or illicit transfers as well as cyber attacks on the crypto exchanges are quite often reported because there has been a notable surge in such illegal activities in the crypto space.
This has created a panic among the genuine users and miners of crypto.
All are looking continually for ways to prevent such attacks.
If you want to know the ways to prevent the illegal crypto miners from leveraging their efforts and techniques to infect your system and mine crypto coins, you will need to know about it in depth, how it works, the common targets and the proper and effective defenses.
Here is an article that will let you know all about it and make you more knowledgeable about illegal crypto mining so that you can detect such attacks and prevent them easily in the future.
This will enhance your chances to make more profit from your crypto mining efforts.
How to Prevent Illegal Crypto Coins Mining?
Cyber crime is on the rise and a lot of criminals have now found an easy way to extort money from people.
Often there is very little or nothing you can do about it to recover the money through legal process and enforcement.
Now, these cyber criminals have found an easy and new way to make money – through illegal crypto mining.
In this process, to say in simple terms, the computational power and resources of other users are utilized with or without their knowledge by these cyber criminals with the use of ransomware-like techniques.
Though you cannot do anything legally about it as you would for other crimes, you can always try to prevent such things from happening in the first place.
This, mind you, is not an easy task because you will need to be knowledgeable about the entire thing first.
It is only then you will find it to be easy to detect, recover, and prevent such unwanted incidents from happening.
To start with, you will need to understand what legal and illegal crypto mining is and what the differences between them are.
As you may know crypto mining is an extremely expensive, resource-intensive, and a very complex process.
It has become more complex today since there are so many people engaged in crypto mining.
Therefore, it is not possible now to mine crypto coins with your home computer as it was possible in the early days of Bitcoin.
Moreover, as more and more units of a crypto coin are generated, its value tends to decrease automatically, following the basic principle of supply in economics.
That is why in the crypto space a ‘halving’ incident takes place at regular time intervals which is necessary in order to prevent inflation.
This eventually makes crypto mining twice as time consuming and it needs even more computational power to generate a new unit of a crypto coin. This also results in rapid wear and tear of the computer systems.
Given all these facts, today, mining crypto coins with your own computer is simply not profitable for a user.
That is why the resourceful crypto miners look for more profitable ways to mine crypto coins, and there are two specific ways to do that.
One, they can move to countries where the cost of energy is very low such as Iceland, Georgia, and Venezuela.
A lot of crypto mining firms have already developed in these places, which, however, has caused significant adverse effects to the local environment, stability of national power supply, and energy shortage.
Thereby, such a move by the crypto miners has resulted in an increase in the cost of production of a new coin which also has decreased eventually. This means that their moves were of no avail.
The other way is that the users can avail an almost free way to generate crypto coins with the use of a botnet, which however, is an illegal method.
In this method, the main objective of the miner is to make as many computers as possible to take part in a particular network and mine crypto coins.
The new units generated in this way are then transferred to the e-wallet of the particular user.
But then this is a cyber crime because they will have to smuggle malware into the computers of the ‘victims.’
This is illegal crypto mining wherein the computer or processing power of other users are hijacked by exploiting the vulnerabilities of the systems, the web pages, operating systems and software and installing crypto mining software in them illegally.
This will also leverage the processing power of the visitors to the website through their browsers to mine crypto coins.
Hijacking the processing power from the systems of other users may have some major consequences to the devices of the victims, the networks and the systems.
- Degrading the system
- Reducing the performance of the network
- Increasing power consumption
- Resulting in crashing of the system
- Causing physical damage to the components of the system resulting in failure and
- Disruption regular operations.
All these will result in huge financial losses due to system downtime and increased energy consumption.
You will also have to spend additional money on repairing and restoring the systems and files in it.
Illegal crypto mining has two forms namely:
- Persistent crypto mining, which happens even after a user stops visiting the source that caused the system to perform crypto mining activity and
- Non-persistent crypto mining, where it happens only when the internet browser is open or the user visits a poisoned website.
They usually exploit the vulnerabilities in servers or in applications and also hijack Wi-Fi hotspots for that matter.
Ideally, the processes to follow for ensuring safety and security of your computer system are not very complicated.
For example, blocking browser crypto mining scripts is a good way to protect your system and to ensure its operational efficiency and integrity.
A proven way to overcome such threats is to use proper cyber protection techniques that come with anti-ransomware and anti-crypto mining malware blockers built in it as well as proper backup capabilities that are powered by AI or Artificial Intelligence.
Installing proper and powerful antivirus software in the computers and keeping it updated goes without saying for proper protection of computer systems.
Also, you should visit only reliable websites to download anything, especially software, to your computer.
Add to that, using a managed spam email filter service or ignoring the spam emails completely is another good way to protect your mining systems from being hacked.
However, at this point you should keep in mind that not all illegal crypto mining activities are browser based.
Rather, these are more often standalone programs that will directly infect your computer system.
These are usually ransomware which helps these illegal crypto miners to maximize their profitability.
Therefore, in order to make sure that the illegal crypto miners do not use your computer system as their own money-making machine, you will need to protect your system from both standalone and browser based crypto mining malware.
Typically, illegal crypto mining can only be stopped with a combination of diverse types of security solutions.
This can happen only when you know how illegal crypto mining is done and increase your awareness about the right security measures.
This will help to build the proper foundation for an effective and well protected mining system.
How Does It Work?
The illegal crypto miners will tap into your computers and mine the coins by using your resource, computing power, and electricity bill.
The targeted systems are infected by them in order to mine crypto coins though malicious botnets and different malware variants.
This is one of the most common techniques followed by the illegal crypto miners. In this method, one of the most prevalent crypto mining programs is Coinhive.
This program is classified as ‘potentially harmful’ among most antivirus programs.
There is little legal protection regarding this ‘greatest threats to web users.’
The approach of this program is considered to be extremely deceitful.
Typically, the websites that are infected with Coinhive forces the devices of the visitors to mine crypto coins.
And, in most cases there is no consent from the users and the victims are also unaware of the fact that the CPU power of their systems are being used by someone else illegally.
However, this system has a significant downside, which also is a way to prevent such a thing from happening.
It is that crypto coins can only be mined through this approach as long as a user is actually active on the website.
When they leave the site, the mining process is terminated.
The illegal crypto miners also use different types of malware programs, which is an entirely different approach from the above.
In this process, specially designed malicious software or malware is used to mine crypto coins by using the computing power of other users.
The cyber criminals infect these malicious software programs and follow different ways to infect the computer system of a potential victim.
The most popular and commonly followed way is through infected websites.
However, users using pirated software are also at risk of installing malware such as Crypto Mining Dropper hidden in it into their computer systems unknowingly.
When a user visits a website that is infected with malware, it is loaded onto their computer system unnoticed through a drive-by download.
This immediately starts mining selected crypto coins for the hackers.
The illegal miners make it a point that they or their activity is not noticed by the victim and therefore does not use the entire computing power of the system of the victims.
If they do it will mean that the users will not be able to use their computer and it will trigger off the alarm button and the user will take the necessary countermeasures to foil the efforts of the hacker.
Typically, through this process, the crypto hackers use about two thirds of the computing power of the victims.
In some specific cases, the malware may be specially programmed, such as the Crypto Mining Malware, to sense the initiation of an app that utilizes the resources.
This then throttles the activities of the malware accordingly. This specific malware is also known to be able to get around antivirus programs.
However, when several computer systems combine their power to mine crypto coins, the cyber criminals seem to have little to do in order to crack into their systems individually.
In that case, these illegal miners use a bot network.
This network compromises several thousand computers and starts mining crypto coins for the bad actors. As a result, the profit in this approach is quite high.
Both allow storing, transferring, and receiving crypto coins.
Also, apart from the crypto wallets, some other systems and devices are also vulnerable to illegal crypto mining such as:
- Those devices that are connected to the internet and the CPU of a computer
- All network devices related to industrial control system and information technology
- The mobile devices and the
- Internet enabled devices called the Internet of Things or IoT devices such as printers, smart TVs, and video cameras.
All these should be well protected with effective and proper defenses systems to prevent from being hacked as well and from facilitating an illegal crypto mining process on the sly.
Now, it is time to look at the different defense mechanisms that you may put in place to prevent illegal crypto mining by the hackers.
As said earlier, there is very little or no legal recourse of such unwanted incidents and therefore it is majorly your own responsibility to keep your systems safe and prevent illegal mining of crypto by others using them.
These defense mechanisms should be designed and used based on the methods that are followed by the illegal crypto miners, if you know that is.
Typically, the illegal crypto miners follow two particular methods such as binary-based methods and browser-based methods.
In the binary-based crypto mining, the miners usually use malicious mobile apps and install them on the targeted devices.
These malicious apps are capable of downloading crypto mining bot networks automatically to generate digital coins.
In order to prevent such type of crypto mining, you should:
- Not download any app from unofficial or untrustworthy stores
- Visit the official website and research on the developers of the app and try to find their contact details
- Read carefully the terms and conditions to find out anything that is suspicious and not download the app
- Go through the permissions of the app and not install it if there are too many permissions and requirements and, most importantly,
- Read the user reviews to gather more information about the app.
These scripts are specially designed to mine crypto coins automatically when the user visits the website without letting them know.
In order to prevent such attacks on your systems, you should:
- Update your systems frequently
- Install malware infringement detection software
- Use Domain Name System or DNS filters
- Install effective firewalls and powerful antivirus software
- Use some of the best web filtering tools and
- Block those specific pages that send crypto mining scripts.
If you are into crypto mining business then you should implement a BYOD or Bring Your Own Devices system in your company.
You should also hold illegal crypto mining awareness programs regularly, train your employees and make them knowledgeable about illegal crypto mining methods and its consequences.
Apart from that, introducing a Dos and Don’ts list is also a good practice.
Also make it a point to monitor the computing resources of your company on a continual basis along with checking the CPU energy consumption.
This will minimize misuse and you will come to know if there is any, immediately.
For cloud mining, ensure that there are no erroneous or suspicious cloud configurations existing.
In order to prevent your internet-connected devices and systems from being used for illegal crypto mining, there are a few additional steps to take. These are:
- Antivirus – Using a strong antivirus will prevent installation of malware and remove any potentially dangerous and unwanted programs that may be detected by the antivirus software.
- Update – You should keep your operating systems and software up to date at all times. This will prevent the illegal miner from knowing and taking advantage of the issues and vulnerabilities in your system.
- Passwords – You should always use complex and strong passwords for your systems and different programs that are very hard, if not impossible to guess by others. It is wise and effective to use separate passwords for separate programs and devices instead of a common one. Moreover, the password should be long with at least 16 characters and have strong passphrases with symbols, numbers, and upper and lower case letters.
- Default usernames and passwords – It is absolutely insane to use default usernames and passwords because these are available easily to the bad actors. You should change these default passwords and usernames immediately and use your own strong, long, and unique passwords.
- System privilege policies – You should keep a proper check on the user accounts, review them, and verify that the accounts are used by only those who are authorized to do so. You should restrict the usage of general accounts for performing any type of administrative functions.
- Application allow listing – You should apply application allow list in order to prevent launching of any unidentified and unwanted executables autonomously.
- Downloading files – You should be aware of the files that are downloaded from websites. Nothing should go unnoticed and downloading any files or software programs from untrusted websites should be strictly disallowed or ones without an authentic website certificate to prove its security.
- CPU activity – You should keep a check on the CPU activity and anything abnormal should be nipped in the bud. If you have employees, train them how to monitor and detect any abnormal or above-normal CPU activity on the workstations, network servers, and mobile devices. Any significant degradation in the processing speed should also be considered as a threat.
- Unnecessary services – You should disable all unnecessary services for your particular type of operations that may be running. However, make sure that you do not disable or block those services that may create issues in the future while accessing files, folders, data, and devices. You may take help of a computer professional for that matter to be sure.
- Unused software – Your computer operating system may have quite a few software programs that you do not use for your purpose. Uninstall them. These may include those pre-loaded games, toolbars, and adware. This will not only free up a huge amount of disk space but will also increase the performance level and speed of your computer. Most importantly, it will block the avenues through which the attackers can exploit your system.
- Firewall – Always install a firewall to prevent specific kinds of attack vectors. This will prevent the malicious traffic from entering your systems and at the same time restrict any unwanted outbound communication. If the operating system of your device comes with a firewall installed already, make sure that it is configured properly and enabled just as it is mentioned in the manual of the device.
- Block list – You should also create block lists to monitor reports of the distributing and hosting websites that are used by you often to check for malware, external control or command. You should also block all addresses of internet protocols of the known malicious websites to prevent them from accessing your devices.
In order to prevent browser-based attack and mining crypto, these are some useful preventive measures that will prevent your computer systems from being exposed or vulnerable to such attacks.
- Deploying browser extensions – You should deploy the extensions that are found in most of the popular web browsers of today. This will prevent any web-based crypto mining attacks. These extensions can be an open-source extension that you can add on or any solution developed by developers of the particular browser.
- Ad-blocker software – There are several ad-blockers available today that come with special abilities to filter the mining scripts running on the browser. Installing such an ad-blocker will prevent crypto mining malware from running. However, make sure that you select the script blocker feature of the ad-blocker.
- Block domains – You may also block a few particular domains if you suspect that these are involved in some way or the other in illegal crypto mining. The process is simple in which all you have to do is open the browser, find and click on the ‘Customize’ drop-down menu, and block the specific URL.
If you are an organization involved in crypto mining, the preventive measure for illegal crypto mining is almost the same.
However, there are a few good and effective additional measures to follow. These are:
- Training – You should implement regular training of your employees to make them aware of the threats, the ways, and the possibilities of illegal crypto mining. While crafting your training schedule focus particularly on phishing attempts to load mining scripts in the computers, the technical solutions for a failing system, and the delivery of malware and its different types.
- Mobile Device Management – Also referred to as MDM, Mobile Device Management is a very useful way for businesses to know what is in and control what is being used by the mobile devices of the employees. MDM can typically help in maintaining your BYOD mechanism in a much better and safer way. It can also help manage extensions and apps on the devices of the users.
However, if you are a small enterprise, you may not be able to afford using MDM.
But then you should also not worry much about misuse of mobile devices in your organization for illegal crypto mining simply because the threat is not that major.
The processing power of the mobile phones is pretty low as compared to traditional computers used for crypto mining and therefore is not a lucrative option for the malicious actors.
You should always have a dedicated help desk to detect illegal crypto mining attempts.
This will help you to resolve any issues that may result in such mining attempts as soon as it is detected.
However, remember detecting such issues can be very difficult especially when only a couple of systems in your organization are compromised.
You should never count on your current endpoint protection tools blindly for stopping illegal crypto mining because these desktop installed antivirus programs are often not able to see the crypto mining codes that are specially designed to override the signature-based discovery tools.
In order to ensure that your help desk is efficient and active in detecting illegal crypto mining attempts, here is what you should do.
Educate your help desk about the signs or signals of crypto mining and look for them in particular.
The most imminent and common signal is a spike in the number of complaints received by the help desk which may be regarding slower performance of the computer.
This should raise a red flag immediately and you should start investigating it.
A few other signals to look for by the help desk include overheating of the systems.
Also, implement a network monitoring tool that will be able to analyze the data and information which will result in accurate detection of issues and significant threats by using Artificial Intelligence.
It will review the entire web traffic to detect crypto miners.
A few good solutions can also go further and down a particular activity to find the individual user and the device that is creating an issue or posing a threat for illegal crypto mining.
Watch all outbound connections and their initiation by using a good filtering system on a server.
This will prove to be an easy way to find any crypto mining malware.
The best way to do it is to look for any changes of files on the web server or to the pages.
It will pay you off well if you stay abreast with the latest illegal crypto mining trends, especially in the delivery methods of the malware to the systems which seems to keep on evolving constantly.
Also, understand the behavior of the software to know whether or not it can affect your systems, one or all of them.
Any script delivered by a website should be blocked and the browser tab should be ‘killed’ immediately.
This will also prevent illegal crypto mining attempts.
Your IT department should be well trained to detect such potential threats and the particular website URL easily and quickly that may be the source of such threats.
They should also update the web filters of the company along with it so that these illegal crypto mining script delivering websites are blocked immediately.
And finally, you may also look for and buy a proper service fraud insurance coverage.
This will reimburse you for any losses that you may have incurred directly due to any deceptive use of your business services, and it includes crypto mining.
At this point you should know that none of the above defenses is foolproof.
This is not because these are inefficient but it is because the malicious actors tend to find newer and better ways to infect computer systems and mine crypto coins illegally.
Add to that, due to the high level of competition and seemingly depleting rewards in crypto mining, there is an ever-increasing prevalence of illegal crypto mining among the users.
Therefore, learning continuously and adapting is the key to success in legal crypto mining.
Learning will help you to use your experience not only to resolve the issues existing but also know the possible ways in which an attacker may compromise your computer system in the future.
It will also help you to know what specific changes you need to make in your employees’ training schedules so that they are also well abreast and up to date about the latest in illegal crypto mining along with you.
It is only your knowledge and determination to prevent illegal crypto mining that will ensure that you do justice to you, your crypto mining efforts, to your employees if any, as well as that entire crypto space in the long run.
However, it can be prevented with some easy ways, as pointed out in this article.