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NEW DELHI : The boom in the value of cryptocurrencies over the past quarter is making crybercriminals sit up. After a year or more of decline, the number of miners, a malicious programme, grew from 187,746 in January to 200,045 in March, according to a report by security firm Kaspersky.

Miners are special types of malicious programmes that are designed to secretly use a computer’s resources to mine cryptocurrency. Hackers can siphon off as much as 70-80% of a computer’s power and use them to mine cryptocurrency.

As a result, a device can slow down, heat up and even catch fire at times. Scams that install malware like this are also called cryptojacking.

The vulnerabilities that the miners exploit can also be used to steal data from devices. “Today, threat actors are running cryptojacking processes in the background at low thresholds to avoid tipping off, or even as a cover-up for more serious attacks. Late last year, Microsoft published a report stating that malicious actors are fronting attacks with cryptojacking scripts as a decoy from more significant attacks, such as credential thefts," said Rahul Tyagi, co-founder, Safe Security.

According to Kaspersky, a total of 432,171 unique users encountered miners during the first quarter of 2021, and the number of unique modifications to miners increased by over four times, from 3,815 to 16,934. Unique modifications are the changes made to a miner’s code in order to accommodate different currencies or devices.

Cryptojacking scams were common in 2017-18 but had declined over the past year or two. Cryptomining, which is the process that creates new cryptocurrencies on the blockchain, is dependent on the amount of computing power.

With the emergence of mining farms worldwide, that can generate computing power worth a thousand computers, cryptojacking scams could only be successful if they infected thousands of devices.

“It’s too early to say for sure if the trend we have noted in Q12021 is here to stay. However, it does seem that the increase in the value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies 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 that we will continue to see more instances of users encountering miners," he added.

Cryptominers made up 41% of all detected malware in 2020, according to the 2021 Global Threat Intelligence Report by Japanese technology services provider NTT. The most common variant was a malware called XMRig, which uses infected devices to mine a crypto called Monero.

“According to our threat intelligence team’s analysis, organized cyber criminal gangs are increasingly focusing on consumers when it comes to cryptojacking attacks. This is largely because of the lack of consumer awareness in tracing such attacks," said Tyagi.

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