The Fraud Examiner

An Emerging Data Breach Threat: Cryptojacking

Jordan Underhill, J.D., CFE 
Research Specialist, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners                                 

According to a recent report from Malwarebytes, an anti-malware software company, the second most commonly detected malware for consumer devices during the second quarter of 2018 forced infected devices to mine cryptocurrencies. This type of coin mining malware was the most detected on business devices during the same period. A report by McAfee Labs found that the use of coin miner malware in the first quarter of 2018 rose more than 629% from the last quarter of 2017. These reports indicate that coin miner malware is currently one of the most significant cybersecurity threats to consumers and businesses.


What is cryptojacking?

The use of coin miner malware is generally referred to as “cryptojacking.” This malware quietly hijacks the infected computer and uses its processing power to mine cryptocurrencies. Many cryptocurrencies require the use of computers to solve complex mathematical algorithms to verify transactions and mint new coins. Individuals who participate in this process receive newly minted coins as a reward. Because this process requires significant computational power, miners often use strings of interconnected computers to mine more quickly and generate greater returns. Cryptojacking provides the opportunity for hackers to harness the processing power of computers they don’t own or have access to — providing an attractive, passive form of income.


Coin miner malware can infect a computer like many other types of malicious software — such as through a link in an email, a download or an online ad. However, unlike more aggressive malware like ransomware, mining malware works in the background and is designed to remain hidden from the computer’s user. A perpetrator wants to retain access to the infected computer as long as possible so they can continue using its processing power. Normally, the only noticeable difference after a computer has been cryptojacked is that normal tasks take longer than usual. This is because some of the computer’s processing power is being siphoned off to assist with mining.

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