‘Crypto-jacking’: Bitcoin rise prompts hackers to ditch ransomware for mining fraud

The sky-rocketing value of some cryptocurrencies in 2017 apparently prompted hackers to move away from tried and tested ransomware as a source of extortion and direct their attention towards crypto-jacking. Hacking incidents known as ‘crypto-jacking’ jumped 8,500 percent over the year, according to IT security firm Symantec.

READ MORE: Bitcoin soars above historic $20,000 mark

Crypto-jacking involves hackers secretly commandeering a computer device to mine cryptocurrency that can then be sold on. According to Symantec, gains for cryptocurrencies like ethereum, ripple and bitcoin emboldened cyber-criminals to find alternate sources of revenue.

“With a low barrier of entry – only requiring a couple of lines of code to operate – cyber criminals are using coinminers to steal computer processing power and cloud CPU usage from consumers and enterprises to mine cryptocurrency,” Symantec’s 2018 internet security report reads.

The security company warns that corporate networks are in danger of shutdown because of the trend which can slow down devices, overheat batteries, and in some cases render computers unusable. Elsewhere in the world of cyber security, Symantec reported a 46 percent increase in ransomware variants, with China becoming the country of origin for 21 percent of attacks using Internet of Things devices.

READ MORE: Ethereum beating bitcoin this year with 8,000% surge

Last year also saw ransomware demands decrease in value following oversaturation of the malicious software, which blocks access to a device until a ransom is paid. “The ransomware ‘market’ made a correction with fewer ransomware families and lower ransom demands –  signalling ransomware has become a commodity,” the security report reads. “Last year, the average ransom demand dropped to $522, less than half the average of the year prior.”

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N. Korea stole cyber tools from NSA, carried out WannaCry ransomware attack – Microsoft chief

Microsoft President Brad Smith told ITV that he believed “with great confidence” that North Korea was behind the worldwide WannaCry cyberattack. 

READ MORE: WannaCry hackers have not withdrawn any ransom bitcoin, surveillance shows

“I think at this point that all observers in the know have concluded that WannaCry was caused by North Korea using cyber tools or weapons that were stolen from the National Security Agency in the United States,” Smith said. 

According to Smith, over the last six months the world has “seen threats come to life… in new and more serious way.”

“We need governments to come together as they did in Geneva in 1949 and adopt a new digital Geneva Convention that makes clear that these cyber-attacks against civilians, especially in times of peace, are off-limits and a violation of international law,” he added.

There has been speculation that North Korea may have played a significant role in the WannaCry ransomware attack in May. Shortly after the hack, Neel Mehta, a prominent Google security researcher, revealed a resemblance between the code used in what is said to be an early version of WannaCry ransomware, and that in a hacker tool attributed to the notorious Lazarus Group in a Twitter post.

Russian cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab explained in a blog post that Mehta drew parallels between “a WannaCry cryptor sample from February 2017” and “a Lazarus APT [Advanced Persistent Threat] group sample from February 2015.”

The Lazarus Group is believed to be behind high-profile hacking attacks on SWIFT servers of banks, including an attempt to steal $851 million from Bangladesh Central Bank in February 2016.

However, Kaspersky researches said that the apparent use by the WannaCry attackers of similar code is not enough to come to definitive conclusions about its origin, as there is the possibility of it being a false flag operation.

READ MORE: Putin: Malware created by intelligence services can backfire on its creators

“Attribution can always be faked, as it’s only a matter of moving bytes around,” another renowned researcher, Matthieu Suiche from Comae Technologies, said at that time, as cited by Cyberscoop. 

In May, a South Korean government-commissioned report produced by the Financial Security Institute (FSI) said that North Korea was responsible for the attack on Sony’s entertainment business in 2014, which erased vast amounts of data while disseminating emails and personal data of employees, in addition to leaking pirated copies of upcoming film releases.

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Researcher Who Stopped WannaCry Ransomware Detained in US After Def Con

Marcus Hutchins, AKA MalwareTech, previously registered a specific domain included in the ransomware’s code, which stopped the malware from spreading.

On Wednesday, US authorities detained a researcher who goes by the handle MalwareTech, best known for stopping the spread of the WannaCry ransomware virus.

In May, WannaCry infected hospitals in the UK, a Spanish telecommunications company, and other targets in Russia, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam, and more. Marcus Hutchins, a researcher from cybersecurity firm Kryptos Logic, inadvertently stopped WannaCry in its tracks by registering a specific website domain included in the malware’s code.

Hutchins was arrested for allegedly creating the Kronos banking malware.

Motherboard verified that a detainee called Marcus Hutchins, 23, was being held at the Henderson Detention Center in Nevada early on Thursday. A few hours after, Hutchins was moved to another facility, according to a close personal friend.

The friend told Motherboard they “tried to visit him as soon as the detention centre opened but he had already been transferred out.” Motherboard granted the source anonymity due to privacy concerns.

“I’ve spoken to the US Marshals again and they say they have no record of Marcus being in the system. At this point we’ve been trying to get in contact with Marcus for 18 hours and nobody knows where he’s been taken,” the person added. “We still don’t know why Marcus has been arrested and now we have no idea where in the US he’s been taken to and we’re extremely concerned for his welfare.”

READ MORE: Hackers Behind WannaCry Cashed Out Bitcoin While No One Was Watching

A US Marshals spokesperson told Motherboard in an email, “my colleague in Las Vegas says this was an FBI arrest. Mr. Hutchins is not in U.S. Marshals custody.”

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