Cryptojacking surges: replaces ransomware as the main cybersecurity threat

July 02, 2018
Chris Wheal

Cryptojacking activity jumped by 629% in the first quarter of 2018 according to a report recently published by McAfee, the cyber security software producer.

Instances of cryptojacking are on the rise according to McAfee: Shutterstock

The McAfee Labs Threats Report for June said that its researchers had detected more than 2.9 million known samples of coin miner malware for the purposes of cryptojacking – where perpetrators introduce malware to the computers of their victims, which then mines for cryptocurrencies using their processing power.

This was a 629% rise from the 400,000 or so samples of cryptojacking software seen in the previous quarter.

State-backed threat

New revelations surfaced during the first quarter that nation-state-backed threat campaigns were targeting individual users and enterprises worldwide, the report added.

“These campaigns were driven by many objectives—from profit-motivated cybercrime to political subversion to surveillance and espionage,” it said.

Cybercriminals can use coin miner malware to surreptitiously monetise attacks that need no middlemen, require mimimal effort and that run the least risk of discovery.

“Compared with well-established cybercrime activities such as data theft and ransomware, cryptojacking is simpler, more straightforward, and less risky.”

Ransomware activity fading

Indeed, a separate report published by Kaspersky Labs in late June, noted a significant decline in instances of ransomware being used to target internet users.

Ransomware is used by cybercriminals to infect and block access to various devices and files and requires victims to pay a ransom for the malware to be cleared from their computers.

“This year, however,” said the report, “we have found that ransomware is rapidly vanishing, and that cryptocurrency mining is starting to take its place.

The report found that the total number of users who encountered ransomware fell by almost 30% from 2.6 million in 2016-17 to 1.8 million in 2017-18. Meanwhile, the total number of users who encountered miners rose by 44.5% from 1.9 million in 2016-17 to 2.7 million in 2017-18.

Trend to increase

Kaspersky Labs said the trend was likely to increase in favour of cryptojacking: “While ransomware has provided a potentially large but one-off income for its cybercriminals, miners will provide a lower, but longer lasting one.

The report concluded, however, that cryptojackers would likely eventually become victims of their own success.

“Big money loves silence, and if miner actors attract as much attention to themselves as ransomware did, life will get complicated for them.”

Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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