The number of attacks has skyrocketed. Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel
Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

This is getting scary. Cybersecurity software company Symantec says the use of criminal “coin miners” jumped by 8,500% during 2017. A coin miner is a file or script that unknowingly steals a victim’s computer processing power or cloud CPU usage to mine cryptocurrencies.

Symantec said in its annual Internet Security Threat Report that the meteoric rise in the crypto currency market has “triggered a gold rush for cyber criminals.” Coin mining, says Symantec, slows devices, overheats batteries and, for businesses, can shutdown corporate cloud networks. Symantec says it logged 1.7 million such attacks in December alone.

“The barrier to entry for coin mining is pretty low – potentially only requiring a couple of lines of code to operate – and coin mining can allow criminals to fly under the radar in a way that is not possible with other types of cybercrime,” reports Symantec. “Victims may not even realize a coin miner is slurping their computer’s power as the only impact may be a slowdown of their device that they could easily attribute to something else.”

While malicious coin miners appear to primarily target computers, mobile phones are also vulnerable. But it is with Internet of Things (IoT) devices that Symantec is seeing the largest potential for criminal growth. During 2017, there was a 600% increase in such IoT attacks, but as malicious coin mining evolves, cyber criminals could exploit the connected nature of these devices to mine “en masse.”

Maybe it’s time to take that kettle offline and go back to gas?