Here's a tech horror story for you. For a few years now, Egyptian internet denizens have been noticing something strange when they're accessing a certain website called Babylon-X.com.
Babylon-X.com is, of course, a porn site, but questionable content aside, Egyptian visitors are noticing that their computers almost always drastically slow down and worst case scenario, overheat while on the website.
What gives? Babylon's videos are not ultra-high def nor is the site super-complex enough to eat through a computer's resources. Something else is definitely going on.
Turns out, according to a report from Vice, the Egyptian government is secretly hijacking the computers of Babylon-X’s Egyptian visitors to mine the cryptocurrency Monero.
Wow! And we thought cyberthieves were the only ones we have to worry about.
It appears that with the current cryptocurrencies explosion, this new kind of profit-generating practice is spreading. From cybercriminals to legitimate sites to governments, everyone wants to be in on the cryptojacking action!
First, what is cryptomining?
Simply put, cryptomining is a way to contribute to the massive computational horsepower and energy needed to maintain and validate a cryptocurrency's transaction network and ledger (called the blockchain). This is a perfectly legal way to earn cryptocurrencies, by the way.
Since cryptocurrencies do not have central governing bodies like regular currencies have with banks, they require the public's help to secure it. As an incentive, "miners" can earn extra cryptocurrency by contributing computing resources to the blockchain.
Cryptomining 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.
Then came cryptojacking
What is cryptojacking? It's a new method for hackers to generate revenue for themselves at your expense.
Since cryptomining consumes tons of electrical energy, fraudsters love sourcing out this activity to others. Instead of putting up server farms dedicated to cryptomining, they would rather steal your computer's resources to do the heavy lifting for them.
They can do this by hijacking your browser or by installing cryptomining malware secretly on your computer. 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.
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.
Cryptojacking is a growing menace
According to a recent report from Symantec, cryptojacking has surged by 8,500 percent in the final quarter if 2017. About a quarter of all cryptojacking attacks were found in the U.S. alone!
Why is it so lucrative? Well, for legitimate sites, it can be a way to earn revenue without ads. Others may argue that cryptomining is a new viable business model for websites to support themselves. For cybercriminals, it's just another easy way to profit at your expense.
Instead of bombarding visitors with ads, they can opt to contribute their computer resources to cryptomining instead.
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 the 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.
How to prevent cryptojacking
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.
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