It seems the boom in cryptocurrency prices over the first quarter of 2021 has revived a malware that had mostly died over the past two years. Cryptojacking scams increased in the first quarter of 2021, according to a new report by Kaspersky. The cyber security firm said that 187.746 users encountered miners on their devices in January, a number that increased to 200,045 in March. There were a total of 432,171 unique users who were affected by crypto miners, according to the report. Kaspersky also found that unique modifications to these miners — which is a change in their code to accommodate new cryptocurrencies and systems — increased by over four times, from 3,815 to 16,934, during the first quarter.
What are miners?
Miners are special kinds of malware that siphon off a computer, mobile phone or IoT device’s processing power in order to mine cryptocurrency. This happens in the background and isn’t easily determinable by the user. Scams that install such miners onto devices are also called cryptojacking scams. The report says that such malware can siphon off as much as 70-80% of a device’s power in order to mine crypto.
Crypto mining is the process that validates crypto transactions and creates new currency in the process. It requires lots of processing power, which is what made cryptojacking scams popular in 2017-18. Malware like these can slow down your device, heat them up, and have also been known to lead laptops and other devices to catch fire.
Cryptojacking scams had lost interest amongst cyber criminals over the past two years or so. According to a 2018 report by Kaspersky, miners used to be the most common malware in 2017-18, accounting for nearly 5% of all malware. But large mining farms in China and other places could provide computing power worth a thousand or more devices at the same time. As a result, cryptojacking malware would need to affect many more devices to be successful, and hence started declining.
However, it seems the boom in crypto led more hackers and cyber criminals to try such malware again. “It’s too early to say for sure if the trend we’ve noted in Q1 2021 is here to stay. However, it does seem that the increase in the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency has sparked a renewed interest in miners.,” said Evgeny Lopatin, a security expert at Kaspersky. “If the crypto markets remain strong this year, it’s likely we’ll continue to see more instances of users encountering miners,” he added.
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