When someone urgently needs to edit a text document or an image, but doesn’t have the time or opportunity to find a trusted source, the most probable solution is to download the first openly distributed or even cracked application they can find, which are rife on the Internet. So, you successfully download and install the program and nothing wrong or suspicious is spotted in its operation. But suddenly, you notice that your PC seems to run much slower than usual and at the end of the month, you receive an electricity bill that is noticeably higher than average. If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’ve got a miner.
Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017. This trend was predicted in 2016 by Kaspersky Lab researchers who spotted a comeback of mining software amid the growing popularity of Zcash. Just a year later, miners are everywhere: according to Kaspersky Lab data, by the end of 2017, the number of affected users would exceed two million.
Criminals are using different tools and techniques, such as social engineering campaigns involving adware or cracked software, in order to affect as many PCs as possible. Kaspersky Lab experts recently identified a number of websites, created using one standard design, which have been offering users free, pirated software such as popular computer programs and applications. Taking into consideration how widespread pirated software is, it’s not a difficult task for criminals to generate a special “landing page”. They have even been using domain names similar to the real ones in order to confuse users as much as possible.
But it’s always wise to be careful when someone offers you something for nothing. The real purpose of these websites was to spread a particular mining software. As a result, in the chase for free applications users were putting themselves at a higher risk than they could have imagined. Along with the downloaded archive, users received a miner which was automatically installed together with the desired software. After this, the miner started silently operating on the victim’s PC, using its power to generate cryptocurrency which goes directly back to the criminals.
The installation archive also included text files containing initialisation information – an address of the criminals’ wallet, as well as a mining pool – a special server to unite several participants and distribute a mining task among their computers. In exchange, participants receive their share of cryptocurrency. Due to the fact that mining Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies is currently a very resource-heavy and time-consuming operation, the pools provide increased efficiency and higher speeds of cryptocurrency production.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have identified that in all cases criminals used the NiceHash project software, which recently suffered a major cybersecurity breach resulting in the theft of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency. Some of the victims were connected to a mining pool of the same name.
There was one more interesting feature found by Kaspersky Lab experts, which enabled criminals to remotely change a previously set wallet number, pool or miner itself. Thus, criminals gave themselves an opportunity to distribute mining flows and change the final destination for crypto coins anytime they needed, or make a victim’s computer work for another mining pool.
“Although not considered malicious, mining software decreases the device’s system performance, which inevitably affects the user experience, along with increasing the victim’s electricity bill. As a result, the use of seemingly harmless pirated software leads to the victim – at their own expense – augmenting someone else’s wallet. We advise users to remain vigilant and use legal software to avoid such malicious handouts,” says Alexander Kolesnikov, Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
In order to protect yourself from such incidents and prevent your PC from turning into a mining zombie, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following: