Cryptocurrency Mining Attacks Hitting Browsers Show Big Drop | News & Opinion

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The chances of your internet browser getting hit with a sneaky cryptocurrency miner have apparently tanked.

On Thursday, the antivirus provider Malwarebytes reported that cryptomining-based attacks on consumers have largely become extinct, dropping by 79 percent from a year ago. A big reason why is because a top cryptocurrency miner provider, Coinhive, shut down in early March, it said.

Coinhive’s miner worked via a computer script that anyone could install over a website. If your browser encountered the script, the miner would siphon away your PC’s processing power to generate a virtual currency called Monero. In response, many antivirus providers began blocking Coinhive’s miner from running over web browsers.

However, Malwarebytes said its own antivirus product is no longer blocking as many cryptocurrency mining attempts as it used to. “We went from tens of millions of blocks to an estimated two million per day,” said company researcher Jerome Segura in an email.

Coinhive was started back in 2017 and quickly gained a notorious reputation as a tool for hackers to generate money. To do so, the hackers secretly placed Coinhive’s mining script into legitimate websites and third-party browser extensions they had managed to break into.

But in February 2019, Coinhive announced it was shutting down, citing the slumping cryptocurrency market and difficulties with mining Monero following a “hard fork” with the currency. A single Monero coin is now worth $62, down from the $400 value it reached back in Jan. 2018.

Nevertheless, Coinhive inspired some copycat services. “In-browser mining has decreased overall, but there are some contenders such as CryptoLoot and CoinIMP,” Segura added. “The big difference though is that the vast majority of sites that are loading those miners are torrent portals, or file-hosting services, as opposed to compromised websites like we used to see in the past.”

Cryptojacking Symantec

Credit: Symantec

Antivirus providers Symantec and McAfee have also noticed a drop in cryptocurrency mining attacks. “However the shutdown of Coinhive is not necessarily the driver,” McAfee researcher Charles McFarland told PCMag in an email. “Issues stemming from the popularity of Monero, and declining mining profitability in general have likely played a much larger role in the decline of attacks.”

“For example, Monero is battling custom, specialized miners taking up a large portion of the network and have forked their network in response,” he added. “The specialized miners leave smaller miners, such as browsers, little room to profit.”

A separate security firm, Check Point, has said that cryptocurrency miners still lead overall as the top malware threat with Coinhive alternative CryptoLoot ranking No. 1 on the list.

“Despite its closure, the Coinhive JavaScript code is still in place on many websites. No mining is taking place, but if the value of Monero increases significantly, it is possible that Coinhive may come back to life,” Check Point said in a blog post.

Businesses also need to be on guard against unauthorized mining. Check Point has seen cases where cryptocurrency miners were found installed on cloud servers used by corporations. Due to the mining, which can sap computing resources, the businesses were forced to pay “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to the cloud server providers, Check Point said.