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What is cryptojacking and how can you avoid it?

At a glance

  • Cryptojacking is when a hacker hijacks devices, turns them into cryptocurrency miners and exploits blockchain networks and applications.
  • Signs of cryptojacking include a quick battery drain, decreased performance, overheating and increased usage of the device’s central processing unit.
  • To prevent cryptojacking, you can install a cybersecurity program, stay up to date on cryptojacking trends, install ad blockers and disable JavaScript.
  • To learn more about cybersecurity, or to expand your existing knowledge, University of Phoenix offers online bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cybersecurity as well as dedicated course collections.

From identity theft to stolen credit card numbers, cyberattacks have cost an estimated $6 trillion globally — and that’s just in 2021. One of these cybercrimes is cryptojacking, and as the cryptocurrency industry grows, so too are instances of this attack.

Cryptojacking is when a hacker secretly hijacks computers, smartphones, tablets or servers and turns them into cryptocurrency miners. The unpermitted use exploits blockchain networks or applications, which otherwise securely record and maintain cryptocurrency transactions. More than $1 billion has been stolen from blockchain bridges in 2022 alone. Here’s what you need to know to prevent this type of crime.

How does cryptojacking occur?

Anyone who has a device connected to the internet and who browses webpages, checks email or downloads apps is at risk for cryptojacking.

While that sounds alarming, there are two common ways people usually fall victim to cryptojacking. One occurs by clicking on a malicious email link, which immediately loads crypto-mining software onto your device and, unbeknownst to you, turns it into a crypto-mining machine.

The other method, called drive-by crypto-mining, happens when a piece of JavaScript code is embedded into a webpage so that any time a device is used to visit that page, the device gets used for cryptocurrency mining.

These schemes happen frequently on pages or apps that draw a lot of traffic. For example, in 2018 a cryptojacking code was found hidden on the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report page.

A year later, eight cryptojacking apps were found in the Microsoft Store and even promoted on lists of the top free apps. When users downloaded and launched one of the apps, they would unknowingly download cryptojacking software onto their device. 

What problems does cryptojacking cause?

One problem cryptojacking causes also happens to be one way to detect when cryptojacking is happening: It causes your device to not function properly. A computer that’s being used to mine cryptocurrency may experience problems like:

  • Decreased performance: Your device might run slower, crash often or generally offer poor performance. These are key symptoms of cryptojacking code.
  • Battery drain: A battery that drains faster than usual is a potential sign of cryptojacking.
  • Overheating: Since cryptojacking is such a resource-intensive process, devices may overheat more often. Pay attention if your laptop or computer’s fan is running faster than usual.
  • Central processing unit (CPU) increase: If you see an increase in CPU usage while browsing, it could mean cryptojacking software is running. Check your activity monitor or task manager, but keep in mind the scripts are likely hidden, making them harder to detect.

Recognizing the signs of cryptojacking is only one way to protect yourself from cybercrimes. Preventing them before they happen is another.

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Can cryptojacking be prevented?

Taking steps to reduce the risk of cryptojacking is also helpful for preventing other cyber threats. (And with more data breaches happening every year, the future of cybersecurity relies on people who understand how to protect themselves from these threats.)

Some helpful ways to reduce the risk of cryptojacking are:

  • Installing a cybersecurity program: Choose software that can detect multiple kinds of cyber threats, including cryptojacking.
  • Staying updated on cryptojacking trends: Codes and scripts are constantly evolving, so take a proactive approach to understanding the essentials when it comes to technology and computers.
  • Using extensions that block cryptojacking: Since cryptojacking software is hidden in web browsers, install specialized browser extensions that protect your device across the web.
  • Install ad blockers: Cryptojacking scripts can be deployed through online ads, which makes ad blockers your first line of cybercrime defense.
  • Disable JavaScript: Disabling JavaScript when browsing online can help stop cryptojackers from infiltrating your device.

Keep in mind that when your computer is being victimized by cryptojacking, it could also be troubled by other kinds of cyberattacks. One of the best methods of prevention is understanding other kinds of cybercrimes.

Is cryptojacking worse than other cyberattacks?

Initially, cryptojacking may seem relatively harmless, but using devices for this cybercrime is more than a breach of security — it’s also a breach of your privacy and your right to sole ownership of your device. Other cybersecurity threats include:

  • Phishing: Hackers pretending to be a trusted person, business or government organization send emails or texts to gain access to private information.
  • Malware: Software that can disrupt IT processes or steal data and other information.
  • Ransomware: A type of malware that uses encryption to ransom a victim’s private information. Critical data is encrypted so that it cannot be accessed until a ransom is paid.
  • Man-in-the-middle: When hackers take over a two-party transaction to steal credit card numbers from websites.
  • Stolen passwords: A cyberattack that occurs when a stolen password is used to gain access to a person’s or business’s digital information.

While cryptojacking can burden your computer’s functionality, it’s not as immediately devastating as other cyberattacks, which often target financial and private information. That’s why it’s important to learn how to detect as many kinds of cyber threats as you can, including cryptojacking.

How can you detect cryptojacking?

Since cryptojacking occurs in the background of your system, it can be difficult to detect. What’s more, because cryptojacking code can be disguised to look like regular processes, even antivirus and antimalware software may miss it.

If you are concerned your computer or IT systems are under threat of cyberattack, consider connecting with an expert who has a background in cybersecurity and can identify the issue. IT professionals experienced in digital forensics can identify cryptojacking, recover from it and prevent it and other cybercrime down the line. It’s worth your time — and your company’s security — to be proactive about understanding the impact of today’s most prominent cyberthreats.

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Cybersecurity and IT education at University of Phoenix

Whether you’re seeking to gain a basic understanding of cybersecurity and other IT skills or you’re a working professional looking to expand your knowledge, University of Phoenix offers online course collections and degree programs.

  • Certified Ethical Hacker Course Collection — This course collection can help you prepare to sit for the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification exam. Topics include the phases of ethical hacking, recognizing weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a system, social engineering, IoT threats, risk mitigation and more.
  • Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator Course Collection — This course collection can help you prepare to sit for the EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator (CHFI) certification exam. You’ll learn about the latest technologies, tools and methodologies in digital forensics, including dark web, IoT, malware, cloud and data forensics.
  • Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity — This online program teaches skills such as security policies, network security, cybersecurity and more.
  • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology — Learn more about information systems, system analysis, operations and cybersecurity.

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