Cybercrime is nothing new. It has been prominent in the form of ransomware for years. Typically, ransomware infects devices and prevents access to other devices or files. In most cases, they require the user to pay a ransom to solve the issue. Now, cryptojacking is beginning to take its place as the vogue cybercrime.
Kaspersky Lab are a leading antivirus and internet security software company who report on the issue of cybercrime, and this year, they have unmasked an unnerving trend. While the number of ransomware crimes has seen a decline, a new threat has emerged – cryptojacking.
The report covers the period of April 2017 to March 2018, and is compared with April 2016 to March 2017.
A spokesperson from Kaspersky revealed how they gathered the statistics:
“Kaspersky’s premiere cloud system, Kaspersky Security Network (KSN), detected cryptojacking malware – it is from KSN that these figures were calculated. KSN automatically processes cyberthreat-related data received from millions of devices owned by Kaspersky Lab users, who have voluntarily opted to use this system. This cloud-based system approach is now the industry standard, applied by many global IT security vendors.”
Cryptojacking up by 44%
Whilst there is an incredible amount of statistics and analysis provided by KSN, the most interesting revelation is that the number of users who reported they had encountered deviant crypto miners (or cryptojackers) rose by almost 44.5%. The exact figures are 1,899,236 in 2016-17 rising to 2,735,611 in 2017-18.
The report outlines how “mining is a discreet and modest way to make money by exploiting users,” before continuing on to state, “although there are groups of people who hoodwink unwitting users into installing mining software on their computers, or who exploit software vulnerabilities to do so, mining is legal. It simply results in the threat actors receiving cryptocurrency, while their victims’ computer systems experience a dramatic shutdown.”
This issue has been growing since the summer of 2016, which is when the first PC mining spike began. At that point, 400,000 users per month encountered miners. This figure then rose to a staggering 600,000 per month a year later.
This type of crime is being dubbed as “riskware” by Kaspersky. This can be defined as a legitimate program that can cause damage if they are exploited by a malicious user. They also noted that “amid the decrease in ransomware and in the increase in mining, riskware is dominating malware and is now setting the rules of the game.”
A spokesperson for Kaspersky highlighted the most used type of infection, stating: “The most commonly used malware is Open Source Miner, which covertly enters and operates on devices without detection.”
As well as PCs, the report details how “mobile mining is an emerging threat, targeting developing countries,” and that the figures “suggest that the mining threat may come from China, as this region demonstrates an increase of over 1287.5% year on year.”
What else does the report reveal?
Cybercriminal miners are also targeting developing markets, such as Venezuela, due to the fact these countries have less issues with cybercrime and are naturally less protected than markets where cybercrime is rife.
To complicate matters, it is typically hard to recognise if your device has been infected, particularly on computers, because it is rare that a PC’s full processing power will ever be utilised. So, miners look to target the 70-80% of processing power that isn’t being used on a device, thus concealing the infection.
One of Kaspersky’s closing comments in the report states: “Once criminals find a technological solution that makes the profits from mining on mobile devices equivalent to those from mining on PCs, mobile mining will quickly become equal. Particularly worrying here is that some of the criminals’ key target geographies – China and India – account for a third of all smartphones in the world.”
What can we expect from Kaspersky in the future?
Kaspersky’s spokesperson revealed their intentions to tackle cybercrime in the future, saying:
“We expect targeted attacks with ransomware to increase in regularity in the near future, and are continuing to develop our systems to combat these. We will continue investing in our threat research expertise to further improve our products, making sure they detect and protect from all types of malware.”
It would certainly seem as though the issue of cryptojacking is rapidly rising at an alarming rate. What is more worrying is that these miners who are targeting people are doing so in a covert way that makes it difficult to recognise if a device has been infected. Whereas cybercrime used to operate with some noise, prompting victims to pay a ransom, it would seem as though this new trend of riskware prefers victims to be unaware of the issue.
The world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain is ever-expansive, but it appears as though it is also ushering in a new age of cybercrime. Cybercriminals using PC mining tactics are already prominent, as the 44% rise in cryptojacking suggests, and while we are not close to a point where mobile mining is as efficient as PC mining, if that day were to ever arrive, we could expect to see another exponential increase in cybercrime.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author should not be considered as financial advice. We do not give advice on financial products.