While you click on yet another article about the threats of ransomware, a new, more insidious form of malware has taken over the web. Cryptojackers might sound like ransomware, but they operate in nearly the exact opposite way: Instead of making their presence known fast, cryptojackers try to hide themselves deep in your processor.
And, instead of demanding cash for your data, they couldn’t care less about what salacious pictures are stored on your device; they are draining your bank account indirectly.
If this is the first time you’re hearing about cryptojackers, that’s bad news – you probably already have one on your computer. Worse, more are on the horizon, sure to attack your devices soon. Here’s more of what you should know about the practice of cryptojacking and how you can stay safe as the malware trend grows.
What Cryptojackers Are
Even if you haven’t heard of cryptojackers, you’ve likely heard of cryptocurrency. Digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are becoming immensely popular; they may eventually take over existing national currencies like the euro or the U.S. dollar.
This is because cryptocurrencies are more secure than national currencies; they cannot be counterfeited or stolen. Most importantly, if you own cryptocurrency, it is yours; financial institutions or government agencies cannot freeze it or seize it.
Cryptocurrency is generated by a process called “mining,” which is essentially setting a device to solve algorithms. However, the process is expensive: It requires costly hardware – which is becoming increasingly scarce – and energy which can drive up utilities bills.
Thus, instead of using their own devices to mine cryptocurrency, some hackers have developed malware programs that use other people’s devices – including yours. Because this malware hijacks your device for others’ nefarious gain, it is called cryptojacking malware.
Why Cryptojackers Work
Most types of malware make their presence known, in one way or another, relatively quickly. For example, ransomware makes it a point to be found; a significant part of its attack strategy is alerting users to its presence and demanding payment or action. However, cryptojackers want the exact opposite.
Instead of stomping in and wreaking havoc, cryptojackers want to be sneaky and silent. They slip into your device and nestle deep, secretly sapping processing power to mine the cryptocurrency their creators crave.
Because cryptojackers don’t behave the way users (or many basic antivirus programs) expect, they can linger for months or years, slowing device activity and degrading hardware without intervention. This strange behavior – coupled with their relative newness and users’ unfamiliarity with them – is largely why cryptojackers continue to work.
How to Keep Your Devices Safe
Regardless of whether you want to engage in cryptocurrency mining yourself or not, you do not want a cryptojacker on your device.
Cryptojackers pull energy away from the processes you want your device to complete, like videos, games or work-related applications, and they prematurely age your device, requiring pricey maintenance or replacement.
Thus, you should be doing everything you can to keep all your devices safe from cryptojacking malware – and the first step is taking advantage of an antivirus security advisor.
Tools like this will alert you to suspicious websites, links and downloads, helping you avoid infection by any sort of malicious program. You should be certain that the tool you install is capable of detecting known cryptominers; it is best to choose an option from a well-known and trustworthy cybersecurity firm.
Of course, you should also always practice cyber hygiene, using your own senses to detect potential threats to your device. For instance, you should avoid opening emails and direct messages from unfamiliar senders, and you should never click on links or attachments contained in those messages. You might also learn about the signs of cryptojacker infection and look for them on your device.
Where to Get Help
Once you are certain that your device has a cryptojacker installed, you need to act fast to understand how the mining malware is functioning so you can stop it.
The solution might be as easy as closing a browser tab – but it might be as difficult as reaching into your computer registry and altering some script.
If you feel uncertain about meddling with a cryptojacker, you should contact your security provider; they often have customer service tools to walk you through eliminating certain malware from your system.