Cybersecurity company RedLock says the number of “cryptojacking” attacks has skyrocketed.

In its latest Crowd Security Trends” report, released this week, RedLock said that during the first quarter of this year 25 percent of the organizations it surveyed were hit with cryptojacking incidents, up from 8 percent in the last quarter of 2017.

Some of the targets have been major companies including electric car manufacturer Tesla, the British insurance company Aviva and SIM card maker Gemalto. As RedLock disclosed in February, in each case hackers had secretly infiltrated these organizationspublic cloud environments and were using the compute instances to mine cryptocurrencies.” 

malicious crypto miners can degrade the performance of a company’s computer resources, sometimes to the point of making them unusable.

These attacks are dangerous because other hackers can get into a corporate system through the same “open door” a crypto miner uses, and that could compromise security and cripple a company’s operations.

According to the website Government Technology, cryptojacking is when a hacker slips code into a website or piece of software that uses some end users’ computing power to validate cryptocurrency transactions. That mining earns digital coins for the person who carries it out.

An Epidemic

RedLock is not alone in its findings. Secureworks reported in March that the number of cryptojacking alerts among its client base increased from 40,000 to 280,000 per month between May and October 2017. Also in March, Symantec reported detections of coin miners on endpoint computers increased by 8,500 percent in 2017.

The increase in attacks has been spurred, in part, by the rapid rise in cryptocurrency values late last year combined with the relative ease of carrying out such attacks.

The RedLock report adds that despite growing awareness of this problem, such malicious crypto mining continues to rise. According to RedLock, “The ransomware market [infiltrating a computer system with malware to lock the user out until that user pays ransom] is becoming saturated and overpriced [and] hackers are setting their sights on new revenue streamslike cryptojacking. Also, crypto-mining hackers are getting better at evading detection.

Cryptojacking’s Impacts

Cryptojacking poses a serious threat to organizations.

Attacks are indicators of cybersecurity weaknesses in an organizations network. Hackers could install malware by exploiting the same vulnerabilities used to infect the network with crypto-mining malware. Gaurav Kumar, CTO of RedLock and head of its Cloud Security Intelligence team said that “there are signs that corporations are stepping up initiatives to minimize vulnerabilities,” but added,there’s definitely more to do.”

In addition, malicious crypto miners can degrade the performance of a company’s computer resources, sometimes to the point of making them unusable. The use of extra processing power to maliciously mine cryptocurrencies can also increase electricity costs over time.

A Continuing Problem

Cryptojacking is likely to remain a problem for the foreseeable future. In April, Juniper Networks cybersecurity strategist Nick Bilogorskiy said, I believe we are still in the mania phaseof the crypto attack bubble and ... I expect ransomware and other cryptocurrency malware attacks to grow in popularity this year.

The RedLock report echoed this assessment when it forecast that “cryptojacking would increase as it [gains] traction in the hacker community.

Sean Lawson
Sean Lawson is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Utah where he researches emerging communication technologies. He is the author of Nonlinear Science and Warfare: Chaos, Complexity, and the U.S. Military in the Information Age.