Two Russian citizens have been arrested and will face trial for allegedly using state-owned computers to mine cryptocurrency, according to local Russian news outlet Tass.
Nikolay Murashov, Deputy Director of the National Coordination Center for Computer Incidents, told a press conference in Moscow on Monday that the pair had used a botnet to infect web pages which mined cryptocurrency when viewed.
The infected pages targeted Russian government organisations and ran scripts to hijack the processing power of users’ machines in order to mine crypto funds.
One of the alleged perpetrators is a resident of the Russian city of Kurgan near the Kazakhstan border. Authorities claim he used an entire sophisticated botnet to infect computers across Russia.
Murashov explained that many people whose computers have been compromised don’t even realise they are being exploited, sharing:
“Up to 80% of the computer’s free power can be used to generate virtual coins, and a legitimate user may not even know about it.”
For companies and government organisations who own complex server hardware and require large amounts of computing power, a successful hijacker could cripple essential systems through crypto mining.
It’s unclear if the hackers managed to sell or profit from funds stolen through this latest scheme.
A growing issue
Illegal or undetected crypto mining is a huge problem worldwide. Attackers will often use a botnet – a collection of specialised autonomous computer programs – to infiltrate and mine crypto on third-party machines.
One of the most infamous botnets is called ‘Smominru’, which is thought to have infected over 90,000 machines worldwide and spreads to up to 4,700 machines every day – often without users ever finding out.
While undetected crypto mining doesn’t directly steal funds from users’ machines, it often renders them useless for other processes and vastly increases energy usage.
These energy demands can make a computer work so hard that it’s possible to fry an egg on infected hardware in just 20 minutes, as a recent demonstration at the Black Hat Cyber Security Conference in Las Vegas showed with an infected router.
Similarly, many crypto mining malware is delivered alongside key-loggers and other malicious tools to steal information from victims.
A recent case saw members of a Romanian cyber-gang extradited to the US after infecting over 400,000 machines with crypto mining malware, making off with $4 million in funds and also stealing sensitive user information.
If you’d like to find out how you can protect your machine from crypto mining malware, check out our safety guide here.