Cryptojacking: Why SMBs Need to Stay on High Alert

Cryptojacking is one of the biggest threats circulating these days. While all businesses are at risk, SMBs are especially prone to these types of attacks. Here's how smaller firms can protect themselves.

Dirk Morris, Chief Product Officer, Untangle

November 12, 2018

5 Min Read

Cryptojacking, which is how many people refer to an array of cryptomining malware, continues to make headlines as one of the biggest security attacks happening today. And it's only getting worse.

However, while cryptojacking is a growing threat for businesses of all sizes, small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are increasingly becoming targets. While cryptomining may seem relatively innocuous compared to other cybersecurity threats, it can rack up significant computing costs. This is specifically detrimental to SMBs that have few IT resources or funds to spare. (See Majority of Cyber Attacks Against Small Businesses Can Cost $500K.)

Several studies have found that most malware attacks today are intended for cryptojacking, which involves infecting systems with malicious code that uses CPUs to mine for cryptocurrency. Mining involves the solving of complex computational challenges that validate cryptocurrency system transactions, adding them to the cryptocurrency's blockchain. (See Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Becoming Greater Security Concerns.)

(Source: iStock)

(Source: iStock)

In return, miners may obtain cryptocurrency back as a reward. Cryptomining can go undetected while continuing to use resources in the background.

How it works
Hackers often use links in emails or other phishing tactics to load cryptomining code onto computers, working in the background while unsuspecting users are watching what's happening on the screen. One of the unique problems to cryptojacking malware is that, unlike ransomware, it does not want to make its presence known.

Instead, it aims to silently mine cryptocurrency using your processing power for months.

Typically, rootkits are installed to maintain access, and the compromised hosts are controlled by a central server. This leaves the exploited device vulnerable, sometimes by more than just the original attacker, for long periods of time.

Cryptomining utilizes computing resources to create blocks that are traded for cryptocurrency. Since cryptomining requires costly computing resources, cybercriminals will try to breach business networks to use their computing resources instead of their own. However, systems running high CPU loads can rack up costs to a business and could lead to bricking or destroying the end device, if the mining malware is especially aggressive. (See Cryptomining: Paying the Price for Cryptocurrency.)

Why SMBs are at risk
SMB employees are often not trained on the latest cybersecurity threats and may not realize why their PCs or servers are slowing down from a drive-by cryptojacking attack. It is crucial that SMBs realize the potential impact that cryptojacking can have on their businesses and take measures to protect their precious resources.

What makes SMBs vulnerable to cryptojacking? Here are a few examples:

  • Lack of IT personnel to identify a breach or lack of visibility on the network

  • Out-of-date network security solutions that may not stop hackers or identify threats

  • Network security solutions do not proactively block new and emerging threats

  • Computing costs from cryptomining could be astronomical, causing possible financial ruin

  • Running computing resources on high could ruin or destroy devices

  • Lack of employee training to understand what a threat and breach looks like

Protecting SMBs
Not sure how to protect your business? It doesn't need to be overwhelming. By regularly monitoring and updating your networks, you can do a world of good.

Here are a few steps you can take to arm yourself against cryptojackers:

  • Monitor the network for any threats or unusual activity

  • Utilize virus blocking and website filtering with URL categorization that includes cryptocurrency, blockchain and other cryptomining categories

  • Implement web filtering, ad blocking and spam blocking solutions for basic defense features to protect businesses from rogue websites, ads and spam emails

  • Train employees on emerging threats and how to identify a hacker's attempt to gain access to their system

  • Inspect file downloads for malicious files in emails or links

  • Invest in a unified threat management solution (UTM) that provides a simplified approach to network security, including firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention, web filtering and more for small and midsized businesses with limited IT resources

Next steps
Vigilance is key when it comes to combating cyber threats. If you don't have a cybersecurity expert in your organization, finding the time and resources to properly monitor your network and protect against threats may feel overwhelming, but it is imperative. You may consider distributing security responsibilities among employees and connecting for regular meetings to share information.

It's also essential that you continue to update training for all employees to make certain that you are covering the latest protocols for new threats. Ensuring that you are using tools that are frequently updated, and unifying your security solution to streamline efforts, will also help you to have a more seamless security strategy.

If you still feel uncertain about your ability to manage security threats, consider utilizing a managed services provider or hiring a consultant to come in periodically and assess potential weak spots in your organization, train employees and update security measures.

If you take these steps, you should be fairly well-armed against cryptojackers, as well as other security threats.

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Dirk Morris is the Founder and Chief Product Officer of Untangle. Prior to Untangle, Morris was Chief Architect at Akheron Technologies, where he invented the patent-pending High Bandwidth Transparent Vectoring used in the company's proxy firewall engine. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University.

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About the Author(s)

Dirk Morris

Chief Product Officer, Untangle

Dirk Morris is the founder and Chief Product Officer of UntangleUntangle. Prior to Untangle, Morris was Chief Architect at Akheron Technologies, where he invented the patent-pending High Bandwidth Transparent Vectoring used in the company's proxy firewall engine. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University.

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