We find ourselves in a brave new world, as Aldous Huxley would put it. Our lives now revolve around technology. Namely, our lives revolve around screens, and many of them. We have become a race of screen-touching, couch-locked (or chair-locked) internet-dependent humans and, as such, most of our fundamental life systems as well as anything else that we require have been transferred to the internet for our comfort. One of the big ones is finances. Digital assets and digital currency are huge these days, and millions of people now prefer digital currency instead of using banks and paper money. Hence the term ‘crypto’. We are in a time when it is possible to invest in digital currency, and quickly grow (or lose) that cryptocurrency. Some have made millions in profit over a short period of time (especially if they bought into the Bitcoin boom years ago) and others have lost everything. Alas, crypto is still a big gamble these days and is yet to stabilize.
However, what is the disadvantage to all of this? Well, one big issue is what is called ‘cryptojacking’. Unfortunately, cryptojacking can have negative consequences. Not only is cryptocurrency a gamble in terms of the possibility of losing a lot of money fast due to hasty and illogical decisions, but there is an entire cybersecurity aspect of the crypto world that has wreaked havoc. Now, let’s get into what cryptojacking is, why it is so awful, and what you can do to stop it as best as possible.
With the relatively recent arrival of digital currencies, there is an equivalent push from the dark side. This is what is referred to as hackers, or cybercrime in general. Of course, anything that takes place in the internet-connected world has the potential to be disrupted, sabotaged, or stolen by cybercriminals.
Cryptojacking, as its name suggests, is a form of the jacking up of cryptocurrency. It is a relatively new term that describes when someone uses your device (a computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or anything you trade and store crypto on) to mine cryptocurrency without your knowledge or your permission.
You might think that this won’t happen to you, but do not be so bold as cybercriminals are not very picky, and they act quickly. They also do not care about you or your finances. If we come back to cryptojacking for a moment, let’s appreciate that it is important to understand what crypto mining is first. Crypto mining is popular because several computers can be used to slowly collect pieces of the most valuable digital currencies such as Bitcoin and accumulate a large sum over time. In some countries such as India and China with extremely large populations, it is not strange to find entire server farms that can expend an amount of electricity on crypto mining that could run a small town. Cryptominers also allow Bitcoin itself to grow as a currency, which is interesting.
Cryptojacking is a problem because a hacker or hackers without special hardware and strong computers can hijack other systems into botnets (a mesh of connected computers) to mine cryptocurrency for themselves. For instance, if you notice your computer starting to overheat or run the fans at high speed while not doing anything, you might have a crypto-jacker infection in your hands. In this same way, a hacker may get access to your data while draining your device’s power and jacking up your electricity bill. You and one hundred other people might be getting crypto-jacked without your knowledge.
How do hackers crypto jack systems? Well, there are a couple of ways this happens. The first way is via phishing scams. These are malicious emails infected with a link or attachment that contains cryptojacking scripts. Secondly, hackers can put cryptojacking scripts on popular websites so that everyone who visits the website will fall victim and their CPUs and GPUs will start to whirr and buzz under the heavy load introduced to the system.
Now, fret not, there are ways and tools with which to stop crypto-jacking attempts from ever affecting you, but it is up to you to heed the following advice and download and set up the relevant tools. It is also up to you to have common sense when browsing the risky space that is the internet.
First of all, as we said earlier, a crypto-jacker program will manifest itself in the performance of your devices. You will notice your device is much slower, and warmer. This will most certainly reflect on your electricity bills if you do not nip it in the bud. Think of a crypto-jacker as a nasty, annoying cold that you must treat quickly.
Secondly, you should check either your Task Manager (Windows) or your Activity Monitor (Mac) to see if any unusual programs or background processes are running there.
Now for the tools, you will need. You will need a premium Antivirus program as well as a premium Virtual Private Network (VPN). The former will take care of any suspicious files, while the latter will encrypt your internet connection from potential cybercrime and espionage.
You should also look into getting a good ad-blocker for your browser, and anti-cryptojacking extensions, and make sure that your entire system’s software is updated to the latest version. Of course, ensure that your firewall and other protection systems are enabled on your operating system.
You should also look at using a browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Brave, or a host of others that have good security features where you can choose to block third-party cookies and enable anti-fingerprinting features.
Make sure to never download software that isn’t verified, and never click on any links or attachments in emails where you do not know the sender. This advice goes not only for crypto-jacking scripts, but also for all types of malicious software (malware) like viruses, trojans, and worst of all ransomware scripts.