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Bitcoin & Cryptocurrency mining attracts many users who want to get the desired coins. However, mining remains a field for fraud and hacker attacks. Learn more about how cryptocurrency mining works and the risks associated with it. Protect yourself from possible threats with a set of special security tools and services.

What is Bitcoin Mining?

Bitcoin mining, in and of itself, is not harmful and involves using a computer to solve difficult mathematical equations for the user to earn bitcoin. The user earns bitcoin by verifying transactions on the blockchain, which is a digital ledger - similar to a bankbook - that keeps track of all the transactions of a given cryptocurrency. Each time a hash is solved, the user who solves it earns bitcoin.

However, to solve the math problems, a computer has to run nonstop, expending a lot of central processing unit (CPU) power. This takes a lot of electricity. Hackers have begun hijacking other people’s computers to use them, their resources, and the user’s electricity to mine bitcoin, which the hacker can then cash in on.

How Does Bitcoin Mining Work?

Bitcoin mining uses malware. Hackers have written malware with the ability to access your computer and use its resources to mine bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. For the hacker to earn cryptocurrencies, they have to verify transactions on a blockchain. Cryptocurrencies depend on this to maintain solvency.

Each transaction generates an ID labeled with a hash. On the bitcoin blockchain, a hash is a 256-bit encryption, which is essentially a password. Each computer on the network tries to figure out the 256-bit password, and if it gets even one character wrong, the hash is not solved. Other computers work to verify the authenticity of the solutions the “winning” computer came up with. All of this work is rewarded with cryptocurrencies - in this case, bitcoin.

In some cryptocurrency ecosystems, users also get voting rights in the system’s governance structure. This means they get to cast a vote regarding the decisions the development team makes about the future of the currency, its token, and how they will be used.

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Although it is not hard for a computer to solve a hash, to do it fast enough so that the problem is solved before other users' computers solve it, the computer has to be fast. But a fast computer is not enough. As the CPU tries to churn out an answer as quickly as possible, it has to fire billions of electrical impulses in a short period of time. To keep the computer from burning up, powerful fans are run constantly. This takes a lot of electricity. This is why hackers come after your computer - to bring it into one of their hijacked bitcoin mining pools.

A hacker installs bitcoin mining malware on hundreds of computers to divide the work among them. All of the computers become bitcoin miners verifying bitcoin transactions. Bitcoin mining calculators have calculated the electric draw of these operations, and they are enough to cause electric bills to spike, CPUs to burn up, and computers to completely fail.

What Are the Bitcoin Mining Risks/Security Risks?

If your computer is hacked and bitcoin mining malware is installed, your computer may be destroyed and your electricity bill may skyrocket.

Because bitcoin transactions require so much computing power to verify, the hardware for bitcoin mining has to be cooled constantly by special fans. Your average cell phone, desktop, or laptop computer does not have the cooling capabilities to keep the CPU from overheating. As a result, when a computer is hijacked for cryptocurrency mining, it often overheats and burns up.

Also, 100% of your device’s computing power may be used for mining. This can bring your computer’s operation to a halt when it comes to business-critical computations. Bitcoin mining software is designed to consume huge portions of a computer’s processing power, leaving little to no room for even relatively low-demand tasks.

In addition, your computer could be used as a launching point to spread the malware to other computers that connect to your network. This could erode the trust you have with customers, business partners, and others who depend on you to deliver services and communications safely. However, there are also specific types of scams that hackers use, and each of these can be a threat to users on your network.

Wallet Scams

Bitcoins are held in bitcoin wallets. With a wallet scam, fake wallets are set up online, and scammers will request that you either give them money upfront or they will provide you with a bitcoin address that ends up putting your funds in their wallet, not yours. There are also fake hardware wallets with built-in vulnerabilities that make it easy for scammers to get in and steal your bitcoins.

Mining Scams

Some companies pretend to provide mining services using a bitcoin mining cloud. They take your money but never mine any bitcoin for you. People often fall for the scam because they want to get their hands on the bitcoin cryptocurrency, and while there are legitimate services out there, some are fraudulent.

Exchange Scams

When you trade bitcoin, especially for another digital currency, you may use an exchange. Each transaction requires a fee. Scam exchanges may lure in unsuspecting bitcoin holders with very low fees. But they then steal your money by using the wallet ID and password you provide.

How to Secure Your Devices from the Risks

If you fail to secure your devices against these kinds of attacks, your device, as well as others connected to the networks it uses, can become infected and suffer from failure. The CPU may get too hot, and the device could literally melt or burn up. In addition, the vast majority - as much as 100% - of the device’s computing power can be hijacked. This could make it useless for the user, stopping business and creating a time-consuming task for the IT team charged with eradicating the threat.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks are a popular target for those who want to mine cryptocurrency on the bitcoin blockchain using other people’s devices. Because the connections are not secure, it is relatively easy for a hacker to gain access to a user’s computer and install malware in a public network. Avoid connecting to the internet using a publicly provided connection like in a café or store.

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Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) can offer adequate protection against cryptojackers. With a VPN, you can access a network that is separate from other users. In this way, only you and other people with a username and password can gain access. Also, traffic on a VPN is encrypted, making it far harder to hack than traditional network activity. This can prevent cryptojacking on your device.

What is Cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is also referred to as malicious cryptomining, and it is a threat that embeds itself within a computer or mobile device and then uses its resources to mine cryptocurrency.Cryptojacking essentially gives the attacker free money - at the expense of your device and the overall health of your network. When a hacker cryptojacks a device, they are capitalizing on the device’s computing ability to solve complicated math problems. The reward for solving these problems is cryptocurrency, which can be traded in an exchange for other cryptocurrency or traditional money, often referred to as fiat currency.

Cryptojacking has been in the news for quite some time, but it has recently increased in popularity due to several factors in the cryptocurrency space. First, digital currencies have grown in popularity and are being accepted by more and more vendors and institutions. This is, in part, due to the growth of decentralized financing or DeFi.

DeFi enables holders of and investors in digital currencies to engage in lending and borrowing, as well as make a profit by putting their currency in liquidity pools, which is where people borrow cryptocurrencies from. Even if a cryptojacker does not plan to spend the cryptocurrency they “earn” by using your device’s resources, they can simply put them in a liquidity pool and earn that way. Therefore, with the growth of DeFi, cryptojacking has become an increasingly present threat.

The value of cryptocurrencies, even those that may never be directly used to purchase goods and services, is central to the cryptojacking problem. Some of the tokens take so little computing power to generate that a relatively weak computer or device, once it has been hacked, can be a useful money-making tool. And because those who solve the problems are rewarded not just for generating new blocks but for verifying transactions, even a slow computer can earn a hacker money - as long as they do not have to pay the electricity bill. When your device or computer is compromised, you are supplying a hacker with both the computing power and the electricity to make money.

 If a hacker can cryptojack devices on your network, they can therefore get you to fund and facilitate their cryptocurrency mining.

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How Cryptojacking Works

Cryptojacking works by either using malware or doing what is referred to as drive-by cryptomining. When a hacker uses malware, a portion of your computer is taken over and controlled, similar to what happens with ransomware. But unlike ransomware, the control happens unseen, in the background, while you continue to use the device. Here is how this process works, step by step:

  1. You click on a malicious link in an email. The email and link may look completely innocent.
  2. Clicking on the link loads cryptomining code into your computer, which places a mining script in the background. The script is designed to control your computer.
  3. The script captures some or all of your device’s computing power and uses it to mine cryptocurrency.
  4. The cryptojacker monitors the crypto being mined and collects it in their digital wallet.

Drive-by cryptomining has its origins in a legitimate transaction. People would openly disclose that visitors’ computers would be used to mine cryptocurrency while they were on the site. Once they left the site, their device would no longer be used to mine. This eventually gave rise to drive-by cryptomining, which involves using visitors’ devices to mine crypto without their permission. When the unsuspecting user visits the site, code is placed on their device. Not only does the user not know that their device is being used to mine but it also continues mining long after they leave the site.

Some cryptojacking malware works like a worm-style virus. It moves through your network, infecting one device after another, enslaving them all, and consuming their resources in the process.

How to Detect and Prevent Cryptojacking

It can be difficult to detect cryptojacking after it has happened because the process is often hidden or made to look like a benevolent activity on your device. However, there are some telltale signs to watch out for:

  1. Your laptop or computer’s fan is running faster than usual. This is because the cryptojacking script or website is causing it to heat up, and your fan is running to prevent melting or a fire.
  2. Your device feels much hotter than usual.
  3. Your battery is draining more quickly than it normally would.
  4. Your device is running slowly, crashing, or exhibiting unusually poor performance.

To prevent cryptojacking while visiting websites, make sure each site you visit is on a carefully vetted whitelist. You can also blacklist sites known for cryptojacking, but this may still leave your device or network exposed to new cryptojacking pages.

Another option for preventing cryptojacking while browsing is to block JavaScript, which is one of the tools used to gain access to your device’s computing power. However, this could make some important features of the sites you want to visit unusable. You can also try using programs designed to block mining while you visit websites. They install as extensions in some popular browsers.

However, an all-around cybersecurity program is a more comprehensive solution. It can serve as a catch-all because it detects threats across the board and can provide protection even if hackers find workarounds for the software designed to block mining. 

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Secure Your Devices

To secure your devices, the following measures should be implemented:

  • Antivirus protection: 

Antivirus programs filter threats, like mining botnet infections, and keep them from attacking your devices. They can also quarantine and eliminate threats that have already penetrated your device, freeing your computer from their effects.

  • Use a personal VPN: 

On each device you use, you can access the internet with your own personal VPN. This keeps your internet use private and secure.

  • Use a firewall: 

If your internet activity happens behind the protection of a firewall, threats like those stemming from bitcoin cryptomining hacks can be kept out. Also, because the firewall can monitor the data leaving your computer, it can prevent your device from being used to hack into others.

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So, what can a VPN do for you?

  1. A VPN protects you on public Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi may be handy if you’re on the go. Sadly, it is really unsafe and makes you vulnerable even to basic cyber attacks. A VPN encrypts your online data and helps secure your personal information when you use Wi-Fi in airports, coffee shops, or other public places. It’s useful for hiding your web activity when you want to access sensitive information in public like online banking, emails, or crypto assets.

  1. A VPN masks browsing and torrent history

Masking your IP address is essential to secure online privacy. A Virtual Private Network ensures that your location, browsing habits, and torrenting history aren’t directly linked to your identity. This way, you can surf with peace of mind without any third parties trying to steer your choices.

  1. A VPN unlocks blocked and censored websites

With a VPN, you can remain safe when streaming Netflix and using other streaming services like Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max. Our ultra-fast servers and unlimited bandwidth will ensure a throttle and buffer-free experience. This way, you can always stay private when streaming your favorite shows and movies! 

  1. A VPN helps stream Netflix privately

With a VPN, you can access more Netflix libraries worldwide and other streaming services like Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max. Surfshark alone unlocks more than 20 Netflix regions in the US, UK, Japan, France, and other countries.

  1. A VPN helps you avoid price discrimination

Websites and services use your location and cookies to tailor prices for their goods and services. With a Virtual Private Network, you can avoid such marketing practices and save a buck when shopping online or buying airplane tickets.

Source: Fortinet.com