Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

12/18/2018
05:31 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

When Cryptocurrency Falls, What Happens to Cryptominers?

The fall of cryptocurrency's value doesn't signify an end to cryptomining, but attackers may be more particular about when they use it.

Cryptocurrency has begun to lose its value, prompting financially motivated cybercriminals to rethink their attack strategies as the payoff for cryptojacking declines.

Cybercriminals go where the money is, and in 2018 the money was in digital currencies. Malicious cryptomining, in which attackers inject malware into target systems and hijack their power to illegally mine cryptocurrency, became the go-to attack vector. Businesses, with their plethora of vulnerable machines, became hot targets for cybercriminals looking for steady, easy money.

Ransomware attacks exchange victims' data for a lump sum of cash and there's no guarantee attackers will receive a payout. Cryptomining generates revenue, and lots of it, on a regular basis. While ransomware rose this year, cryptomining skyrocketed 629% in Q1 2018 alone, McAfee Labs reported. In Q2, cryptomining samples grew 86% to reach more than 2.5 million new ones.

"What adversaries realize is there's a reliable, dependable way to get consistent money and they really flock toward it because of that," says Cisco Talos threat researcher Nick Basini.

The mass adoption of cryptomining comes with risks. Chief among them: cryptocurrency's value. In a new report from Cisco Talos, he explains how an adversary could make $0.25 per day on a basic home computer. Now, a little more than $.04 per day can be made on the same device. Basini notes that around 75% to 85% of cryptocurrency's value has been lost throughout 2018.

"What we've really seen over the last year, and more recently over the last couple of months, is there has been a marked decrease in all cryptocurrencies," he says. Monero, the preferred digital currency among cybercriminals, has taken the hardest hit. Cybercriminals aren't abandoning cryptojacking any time soon, but they are changing their strategies, he adds.

Making Choices with Modular Malware

In a report on their research, Talos analysts report spam levels are a strong indicator of how an attack is affecting the threat landscape. Much of the spam they see is generated by botnets, and those botnets are intended to generate revenue. In early 2018, Talos saw "near constant campaigns" delivering malicious cryptominers or using a downloader.

As the year went on and cryptocurrency prices dropped, adversaries began exploring different tactics and sending different payloads. The trend, Basini says, is moving toward modular malware that lets adversaries deliver varied threats depending on the target machine. Cryptojacking is far from the only way to monetize a compromised system, he points out.

"It's a natural evolution," says Basini of the shift. "But also, adversaries have options, and in the past they didn't really have that."

Modular malware lets cybercriminals learn more about a device so they can decide how to proceed. When it lands on a machine, it collects data, like what type of hardware it is, where it's located, whether it's attached to a domain, and who owns the domain. This data could dictate the payload. A gaming machine with a lot of horsepower would be handy for cryptomining; an executive's laptop would grant access more powerful than mining would provide.

Of course, it's hard to predict the future of something as volatile as cryptocurrency. If the value of cryptocurrency goes back up, "everything goes out the window," Basini notes. For now, though, attackers are getting smarter about maximizing ROI for each of their targets.

"These types of modular malware frameworks that allow adversaries to deliver varied payloads are going to continue to rise in popularity, as the final payload can depend on a lot of external factors," Basini explains in the report.

Cryptomining Attackers: Where to Next?

In a separate post, Talos researchers dive into the activity of three separate attack groups focused on cryptomining: Rocke, 8220 Mining Group, and Tor2Mine. Early investigations mistakenly interpreted the three as being a single actor; further analysis showed three groups with similar TTPs which have amassed hundreds of thousands of US dollars combined.

Shared TTPs include malicious shell scripts disguised as JPEG files with the name "logo*.jpg" that download and execute miners. They also scan for, and attempt to exploit, recently published bugs in servers like Apache Struts 2, Oracle WebLogic, and Drupal. They use malicious scripts and malware hosted on Pastebin sites, Git repositories, and .tk top-level domains.

Researchers have been watching these groups and their cryptomining activity since early 2018, Basini says, and they are all affected by the decline in cryptocurrency's value. For example, Rocke started to develop destructive malware disguised as ransomware, an effort to diversify payloads in response to the drop in value.

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
michaelmaloney
50%
50%
michaelmaloney,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2019 | 12:33:53 AM
Digital risks
Any activity that happens on a digital platform has its own risks that we need to bear with similar to a real-life scenario which carries on its own some consequences. The pattern that ties the falling of cryptocurrency and cryptomining simply means that miners have to go through the ongoing hurdles before being able to either reap success or suffer losses depending on market trends.
Ritu_G
50%
50%
Ritu_G,
User Rank: Moderator
1/7/2019 | 11:59:14 PM
Sad decline
Considering how easy crypto mining sort of is, I'm surprised that there are so man people hell-bent on trying to crack the cryptocurrency codes. I mean, the whole purpose of cryptocurrencies is to make the system near unbreakable so that all of that money locked in storage is virtually untouchable. That's what Blockchain is supposed to do right? Pity though that now the price of cryptocurrencies is on the decline and that in itself is a big failure on the valuation of the success of this industry...
Aviation Faces Increasing Cybersecurity Scrutiny
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  8/22/2019
Microsoft Tops Phishers' Favorite Brands as Facebook Spikes
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  8/22/2019
MoviePass Leaves Credit Card Numbers, Personal Data Exposed Online
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  8/21/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2016-6154
PUBLISHED: 2019-08-23
The authentication applet in Watchguard Fireware 11.11 Operating System has reflected XSS (this can also cause an open redirect).
CVE-2019-5594
PUBLISHED: 2019-08-23
An Improper Neutralization of Input During Web Page Generation ("Cross-site Scripting") in Fortinet FortiNAC 8.3.0 to 8.3.6 and 8.5.0 admin webUI may allow an unauthenticated attacker to perform a reflected XSS attack via the search field in the webUI.
CVE-2019-6695
PUBLISHED: 2019-08-23
Lack of root file system integrity checking in Fortinet FortiManager VM application images of all versions below 6.2.1 may allow an attacker to implant third-party programs by recreating the image through specific methods.
CVE-2019-12400
PUBLISHED: 2019-08-23
In version 2.0.3 Apache Santuario XML Security for Java, a caching mechanism was introduced to speed up creating new XML documents using a static pool of DocumentBuilders. However, if some untrusted code can register a malicious implementation with the thread context class loader first, then this im...
CVE-2019-15092
PUBLISHED: 2019-08-23
The webtoffee "WordPress Users & WooCommerce Customers Import Export" plugin 1.3.0 for WordPress allows CSV injection in the user_url, display_name, first_name, and last_name columns in an exported CSV file created by the WF_CustomerImpExpCsv_Exporter class.