How Cryptojacking Became a Major Threat to Cloud Security

Friday, March 11, 2022

Cryptojacking is very different to many forms of cybercrime. Where some cyberattacks make headlines for stealing money or the personal data of customers, this particular activity has been able to fly under the radar because on the surface it is not as ‘bad’.

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How Cryptojacking Became a Major Threat to Cloud Security
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However, cryptojacking presents a unique set of cybersecurity challenges and it may also be an indicator of poor overall cybersecurity. Here we will take a look at exactly what is meant by ‘cryptojacking’ and establish how it became a major threat to your cloud security and much more.

What is cryptojacking?

The first thing we need to do is establish exactly what is meant by the term ‘cryptojacking’. According to international law enforcement authority Interpol, cryptojacking ‘is a type of cybercrime where a criminal secretly uses a victim’s computing power to generate cryptocurrency’. To understand it, we need to first clarify how cryptocurrencies operate.

Cryptocurrencies work without a centralized authority keeping track of all the transactions. Instead, the technology relies on something called the blockchain, which means that transactions are verified by many different computers around the world. As a reward for verifying the transactions, the computers that do this work earn small amounts of that cryptocurrency. This is the process known as cryptocurrency mining.

When a criminal takes control of someone else’s computer and uses that computing to mine cryptocurrency for themselves, this is known as cryptojacking. The result is not directly damaging to the business – however, cryptocurrency mining takes a great deal of computing power, and it can significantly slow down hardware.

Why is it a threat to cloud security?

Cryptojacking is especially damaging to businesses that operate through the cloud, as this can allow multiple machines to be hijacked. Networks that work via the cloud typically have much higher levels of computing power, making them a popular target for cryptojackers.

Given how many businesses now think that the cloud is a vital part of the way they operate - it is easy to see how this form of cybercrime became a major threat to the overall security landscape.

But this might leave you thinking that cryptojacking doesn’t sound so bad. Unlike some well publicized cybercrimes, it doesn’t steal money or data from you or your customers. At worst, cryptojacking slows down your machine and causes performance issues; can that really represent a significant cybersecurity risk?

The truth is that while cryptojacking might not be as outwardly destructive as other forms of cybercrime, it does point to some deeper problems.

1.   It shows cybercriminals you have weaknesses that can be exploited

Cybercriminals are always looking for the easiest ways to make money. This means that if they find a computer system that’s vulnerable and can be exploited for cryptojacking, they may also assume that this system can be exploited for a range of other and more damaging cybercrimes. It is essentially functioning to reveal that your security isn’t very strong.

The last thing you want is for cybercriminals to see your business as an easy target. So, having robust security in place to protect your cloud environment from cryptojacking has a knock-on effect.

2.   It can leave you vulnerable to other types of attack

Indeed, when a business’ system has been compromised by cryptojacking, it also shows that other types of attack can be effective against it. For example, if you have fallen victim to cryptojacking via a phishing attack, this means that other types of phishing might work against you.

3.   It affects your business’ ability to function

The main problem for businesses that have been affected by cryptojacking is the slowing down of machines. The computing power needed for mining can cause significant slow down of company assets, especially across a cloud network.

This can be a huge problem as it makes it simply harder for you to operate. Slow computers affect productivity and efficiency on a day-to-day basis.

4.   It could be an insider attack

In 2018, it was discovered by cybersecurity firm Darktrace that an attack was ongoing in which a number of a business’ own employees had intentionally installed crypto mining software on corporate computers - but were mining for personal gain. If this appears like a victimless crime, remember that crypto mining software typically slows down systems and utilizes a significant amount of electricity.

This effectively amounts to an insider cyberattack against the company. Once again, it is worth pointing out that this kind of attack doesn’t have an effect that is necessarily as damaging to the business as some other types of cybercrime. However, that doesn’t mean that this type of activity is insignificant.

Firstly, it shows that an employee is willing to compromise the business’ cybersecurity for personal benefit. It may also indicate that, should the opportunity arise, they may be willing to carry out their nefarious activities against the company. Additionally, when this kind of information is revealed either internally or externally and the story makes the news, this can significantly damage the company’s reputation.

5.   It causes significant reputational damage

It is worth remembering that just because crytojacking doesn’t outwardly steal from the company, it does still have an effect on it. When businesses suffer any kind of cybercrime against them, it shows customers that they have not done enough to prepare their cybersecurity. Ultimately, it can negatively affect your reputation.

What steps can be taken?

Recent research shows that as many as 95% of cyber breaches come as a result of human error. What this clearly shows us is that humans are the weak link in the chain of powerful cybersecurity. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter what kind of cloud protections you put in place if your team doesn't understand how to keep the business secure.

The solution here is relatively simple on the surface: provide a higher level of staff training relating to cybersecurity. The problem is that many businesses don’t understand the kind of training that’s required. A single session explaining how to create strong passwords and avoiding phishing emails might have been acceptable ten years ago, but today it is not. You should offer regularly updated training sessions to keep staff up-to-date with the latest threats.

Chester Avey

Chester Avey has over 10 years of experience in cybersecurity and business management. Since retiring he enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience through his writing.



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