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Has your computer been cryptojacked?

Has your computer been cryptojacked?
Mikhail Primakov | Dreamstime

Cyberthieves are always coming up with fresh ways to generate revenue for themselves. There are the usual suspects - spammy ads, unsolicited clicks, sneaky adware and malware infections.

These usually occur at your own expense and they profit off your computer without your knowledge. Sometimes, fraudsters can even infect legitimate sites and make money off them.

Now, with the cryptocurrencies explosion, there's a new kind of profit-generating practice that's spreading. While it is a legal way to create cryptocurrencies, the way some sites are pulling it off is actually highly questionable.

What is cryptomining?

It's called cryptomining - a way to contribute to the massive computational horsepower and energy needed to maintain and validate a cryptocurrency's transaction network and ledger (such as Bitcoin's blockchains).

Since cryptocurrencies do not have central governing bodies like regular currencies have with banks, they require the public's help to secure it. To compensate "miners,"  they have the incentive of being rewarded extra Bitcoin whenever they verify a new transaction block.

Bitcoin mining is difficult by design and it requires "miners" to solve extremely complex math equations. This activity needs tons of computer processing and of course, the hardware that performs it consumes a lot of electrical energy.

In fact, statistics show that each bitcoin transaction consumes enough energy to boil about 36,000 kettles filled with water! That can rack up your electric bill, for sure.

However, instead of putting up server farms dedicated to cryptomining, clever programmers have found a way to publicly source out the processing power needed for this activity by using a user's computer web browser.

Think of it as similar to a botnet, except it's used for mining cryptos like Bitcoin or Monero instead of performing denial of service attacks.

By sneaking in hidden software, a cryptojacker uses a computer's processing power secretly to help out in cryptocurrency mining. This hidden software can be sneaked in through website ads that use JavaScript.

Cybercriminals can even inject this code into legitimate websites like Showtime and PolitiFact without the publisher's knowledge. Hackers can also infect entire public Wi-Fi networks similar to what happened in a Starbucks cafe in Buenos Aires.

This is, in essence, what cryptojacking is all about. And with it, some sites may be making cryptocurrencies off your computer without your permission and you won't even get a virtual nickel out of it.

Others may argue that cryptomining is a new viable business model for websites to support themselves. Instead of bombarding visitors with ads, they can opt to contribute their computer resources to cryptomining instead. In fact, websites like The Pirate Bay have already experimented with this scheme (much to everyone's dismay.)

As such, if website publishers can be transparent in giving visitors a way to opt out of it, cryptomining can even be a viable alternative to advertisements for covering operational costs.

Signs that your computer has been cryptojacked

Cryptojacking software is meant to run in the background without being detected but there are tell-tale signs that a website or your computer has it.

You may notice slower than usual internet connections and slower computer performance. Since cryptomining uses your computer's processing cycles, it consumes more energy so you'll notice a shorter battery life or a higher electricity bill.

Watch out for sudden spikes in computer's CPU activity via Window's Task Manager or Activity Monitor on Macs and kill any unknown programs that are using up abnormally high resources.

Tip: Running a slow PC or Mac? Check out these tips to speed it up!

How to prevent cryptojacking

To prevent your computer from getting cryptojacked, you can always use ad-blocking software or disable your browser's JavaScript altogether.

Also, look out for "typosquatters." These are domains that have mistyped URLs of popular websites. Always double check the URL of websites you are visiting and watch out for mistyped words or extra characters.

12 questions you're too embarrassed to ask about Bitcoin

Do you have more Bitcoin questions? I have put together a list of 12 questions that will give you a much better understanding of this popular cryptocurrency.

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