The algorithm used in Monero mining is particularly suited for ordinary CPUs , unlike bitcoin, which requires specialized hardware. Hackers who can assemble a botnet of secret Monero miners therefore have a good chance of profiting. The ESET researchers say they first observed the Monero botnet on May 26, with the hacker conducting several waves of attacks until Sept 1. The botnet currently appears to be performing very little mining activity, although ESET points out that this is typical behavior before another wave of attacks is launched.
In a number of cases, the assailants have been caught — and forced to return money — because of video footage. In other cases, the criminals are still at large. The unsolved crimes have sown fear among the ranks of the so-called crypto rich, which have grown considerably over the past year.
At a conference for about leaders in the virtual currency industry this month, there was a panel discussion about how to deal with the threat of robbery, extortion and kidnappings in which the criminals seek Bitcoin or other virtual currencies. Organizers of the conference, known as the Satoshi Roundtable and held near Cancun, Mexico, brought in a security force and instituted significant privacy measures for guests to protect them from criminals while they were in attendance.
Most of the crypto rich are loath to speak publicly about the risk of physical attacks, for fear of making themselves targets. But Jameson Lopp, a longtime Bitcoin engineer and virtual currency holder, said the community should be proactive in confronting the threat, to let criminals know that people are taking steps to protect themselves.
Since then, Mr. Lopp has installed closed-circuit cameras around his property and posted photos on Twitter of the automatic weapon he has at home. In a more technical defensive measure, Mr. Lopp has long kept his virtual currency in so-called multisignature wallets created by the company he works for, BitGo. These wallets require multiple people to sign off on a transaction before the money can move. Lopp will go even further later this year when he, his girlfriend and his dog move to a new home.
But he said even that will not fully banish his concerns. But he said the most obvious way to thwart attackers is with wallets that require multiple signatures, and with less public discussion about owning virtual currencies. Lopp said it is important to publicize the many ways in which virtual currency holders can fend off assailants so that criminals reconsider the likelihood of a successful attack.
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To review, cryptominers are placed on an infected machine or device and use its native processing power to mine for cryptocurrency. Historically, threat actors have targeted individual user boxes to drop cryptocurrency miners on, but recent research from X-Force Incident Response and Intelligence Services IRIS suggested that since at least , threat actors have also tried to infect targeted internet of things IoT devices despite their low processing power.
Why would threat actors use malicious cryptomining instead of focusing on other attacks such as ransomware, for example? Threat actors can see some success in getting their malware on user devices, but for those motivated by monetary gain, converting that access into spendable currency has always been a challenge.
Over time, cybercriminals have tried different methods, such as selling stolen data, locking a device and demanding ransom payment from its owner, and selling a remote shell to the compromised device to other threat actors who can then deploy their own attack tactics on that device.
All of these tactics primarily require other people to become involved in their success — an option most criminals prefer to forego if only to avoid sharing the spoils. To minimize interaction with other parties, including victims who may or may not pay, many criminals evidently prefer cryptojacking. These attacks are suited for cybercriminals at any skill level, do not require much in terms of interaction with third parties and can be monetized relatively easily when compared with malware operations such as ransomware and banking Trojans.
To get into user devices, threat actors often deploy cryptomining malware via command injection attacks against enterprise-level assets, such as vulnerable applications in content management systems CMSs. Browser-based cryptojacking involves a threat actor infecting a web server or website and then injecting a cryptomining script into an otherwise legitimate website. Alternatively, the script can be inserted into an online advertisement, whether malicious or wholly illegitimate, and used with a legitimate ad service so that the script runs every time the browser is open.
X-Force research saw an explosion of cryptojacking activity in , with cryptojacking attacks far exceeding all other forms of coin theft attacks. Some of this rise in browser-based cryptojacking comes from unintended sources, such as vendors who sell cryptojacking scripts as an alternative to running advertisements on websites. The initial purpose is legitimate, but they can also be used by attackers who run them on compromised websites.
One of the largest providers of mining scripts of that type was Coinhive , an organization that pioneered the sale of these scripts. In March , Coinhive voluntarily ceased operations. Figure 1: Cryptojacking attacks exceeded malware cryptomining attacks by a nearly ratio in source: IBM X-Force. As our data shows, browser-based cryptojacking was big in But as we moved into , our data started showing a decline in that type of attack and a return to malware-based cryptojacking.
A number of factors could be contributing to this shift. Aqua Security says the malware stored inside these malicious containers springs into action and performs malicious actions only after the image is deployed, making it impossible to detect malicious payloads using static analysis or signature-based security systems.
This has led to multiple groups adopting supply-chain attacks as a method of targeting companies managing cloud infrastructure. Furthermore, the malware is also getting more complex, slowly inching closer to the complexity of malware seen targeting desktops. Aqua said it saw malware strains using multi-stage payloads, bit encoding to hide their malicious code, and techniques to disable competing malware on the same system.
All of this suggests a maturing cybercrime scene that is primarily focused on generating revenue, and the easiest way to do that is by mining cryptocurrency Monero on the hacked servers. For more details on attacks targeting cloud infrastructure, please refer to Aqua Security's page Cloud Native Threat Report.
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