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What is Bitcoin Mining? The Essential Guide for Small Business

Published:

Bitcoin Mining

Executive Summary

  • Bitcoin has become a hot topic over the last few years as a brand-new form of digital currency – but do you know how it’s actually created?
  • Bitcoin mining requires a lot of processing power, so cunning criminals are finding ways to leverage unsuspecting businesses’ computers to do the work for them.
  • Once infected with bitcoin mining malware, your business is at risk not just of data loss, but also – believe it or not – skyrocketing electric bills.

Introduction

The days of cash and coins in your wallet might be numbered.

The rise of so-called “cryptocurrencies” since the early 2010s has been incredible, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, in the first month of 2021 alone, the price of bitcoin has risen almost 50%. The only problem? It’s fallen by almost as much, too.

Volatility aside, it’s clear that bitcoin is here to stay.

But did you know that the production of bitcoin can actually pose a cybersecurity risk to small businesses?

If not, you’re not the only one, but the risk is real – and it’s growing.

Here’s what you need to know about bitcoin mining malware as a small business.

What is bitcoin mining?

Before we can define bitcoin mining, also known as “cryptojacking”, and how it relates to malware, we should first clarify what a bitcoin is.

You can read about this in more depth in another article, but the plain English summary is that bitcoin is a form of digital currency which is traded in a similar way to stocks and shares. Because there will only ever be 21 million bitcoins in existence, scarcity gives them value, despite having no physical form. Bitcoins are stored in digital wallets in cyberspace, so can be accessed from anywhere provided you have the right password.

So where does the whole “mining” part come in?

Well, bitcoins are not simply created in a couple of clicks like a file on a computer.

Instead, they must be “mined” using computer processing power. Each computer in the network (known as the “blockchain”) spends its power attempting to solve complex mathematical equations. When a computer finally solves one of these equations, a coin is generated as a reward. The number of bitcoins produced is set at a fixed rate, meaning the more miners there are working on mining, the less likely it is that a coin will be “unearthed”.

It’s here that distributed networks come into play.

By leveraging multiple computers in the network to mine at the same time, legitimate (or not-so-legitimate) miners can increase the chances that one of their machines will crack an equation and earn a coin. With each bitcoin worth up to $30,000 in early 2021, it’s no surprise that people will go to incredible lengths to boost their chances of mining a coin – including breaking the law by carrying out cyberattacks.

What is bitcoin mining malware – and how can it impact your business?

As you’ll know, this series on the Get Support blog is focused on malware and cybersecurity – so how does this bitcoin mining stuff pose a threat to your business?

The first thing to point out is that, unlike many types of malware we’ve covered in this series, the goal of bitcoin mining malware is not to steal data, spy on users, or otherwise compromise the data of a business.

Instead, an attacker’s singular goal is to leverage the computer processing power of your company’s computers to contribute to their own mining operation. If successful, an attacker can have thousands of workstations across the globe all quietly solving equations and – eventually – earning them a bitcoin (and the dollar value it represents).

So how do bitcoin mining programs actually get on your system in the first place?

The truth is that it’s a very similar story to most other malware: usually through human error. The most common vector of attack for a bitcoin miner is to trick a user into downloading a file or opening an attachment which carries the malware.

This is a classic trojan horse attack, and it happens more than you might think. Luckily, it’s also quite easy to mitigate if you know how.

How to detect – and eliminate – bitcoin miners from your systems

Now you’re familiar with how bitcoin mining works, you’re probably wondering what you can do to combat it.

Like other forms of insidious malware, the goal of bitcoin mining malware is to infect your systems without you realising it.

If a cyberattacker can manage this, your computer (or entire network of computers) effectively becomes an income stream for them. For that reason, it’s in an attacker’s interest to make Bitcoin miners as discreet as possible. They want them to be invisible, but if you know what you’re doing, you can reveal even the most well-disguised Bitcoin miner.

No matter which type of cryptojacking you’re dealing with, all attacks have two things in common:

  • They need to use computer processing power to mine the coins. This can be seen as unexpected activity taking place in a computer’s Task Manager, even when the computer is idle and no programs are running.
  • They need to send the mined information somewhere. Bitcoin miners cannot operate in isolation. As they solve equations, the data about those solutions must be sent back to the attacker. This means that network activity will also be higher, even when the computer is idle and the network should be quiet.

If you have the time, (and the patience), you can check your company’s computers for this sort of activity – but there is an easier way.

Because bitcoin mining malware is usually delivered via trojan horse attack, it can be almost impossible to detect by traditional antivirus software. In such cases, you’ll need to rely on Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platforms to help. Effectively the next generation of antivirus, an EDR platform will be able to monitor and detect the type of activity a bitcoin miner produces on every machine on your network, all at the same time. This saves you time, resources and – once eliminated – money on your electric bill, too. Why? Because bitcoin miners often need to max out the processing power of a computer, meaning your machines will draw a lot more juice from the wall.

Interested in how machine learning and AI-powered EDR platforms can help your business? Here’s what you need to know.

Protect your business the simple way with Get Support

Whether this is the first you’ve heard about bitcoin mining malware (or even bitcoin in general), there’s no shortage of cyberthreats out there.

Get familiar with – and learn how to tackle – other forms of malware with our series of dedicated articles:

Want to keep your business safe simply and affordably? An IT support agreement from Get Support is exactly what you need, and includes access to our recommended EDR platform, SentinelOne.

Find out more today by speaking with a member of the team on 01865 59 4000, or just fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you.

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