Cryptocurrency, a virtual form of currency designed to work as a secure form of exchange, has gained a lot of traction in the world of finance and technology. But for many, the concept of obtaining cryptocurrency, or “crypto-mining,” is obscure. Investopedia defines crypto-mining as, “the process by which transactions are verified and added to the public ledger, known as the blockchain, and also the means through which new currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are released.”
The practice has been around since 2009, and anyone with access to the Internet, the required programs and hardware can participate in mining. In fact, by the end of this month, Forbes Magazine will have published its first “Top Richest” list dedicated to Crypto Millionaires.
With the rise in popularity of digital currency, it’s no surprise that cybercriminals across the globe are leveraging malicious code to obtain it. Hackers would rather develop or utilize mining malware instead of paying the expensive price tag associated with mining machines, which can be upwards of $5000. In China, the ADB Miner malware is spreading and targeting thousands of Android devices for the primary purpose of mining cryptocurrency. The malware is spread through the publicly accessible Android Debug Bridge (abd) on an opened port 5555. This port is typically closed but can be opened by an ADB debug tool. Once infected, a device will look for other devices with the same vulnerability to spread the malware and leverage other Android-based smartphones, tablets, and televisions for crypto-mining.
So why are cybercriminals now targeting Android mobile devices? This could be due to the fact that hackers know they can easily manipulate vulnerabilities in Google Play’s app vetting system. Last year McAfee Mobile Threat Research identified more than 4,000 apps that were removed from Google Play without notification to users. Currently, the app store does not have consistent or centralized reporting available for app purchasers. Even if an app is supported by Google Play at the time of download, it could later be identified as malicious and Android users may be unaware of the fact that they’re harboring a bad app.
Researchers have found over 600 blacklisted malicious cryptocurrency apps across 20 app stores including Apple and Google Play. Google Play was found to have the highest amount of malicious crypto apps, with 272 available for download. In the United States, researchers have found another crypto-mining malware that is so demanding of phone processors, its causing them to implode. Loapi, a newly-discovered Trojan crypto-miner, can cause phone batteries to swell up and burst open the device’s back cover, and has been found in up to 20 mobile apps.
Crypto-mining malware isn’t a new phenomenon. Before the WannaCry attacks last summer, cryptocurrency malware sprung up as another malicious software looking to take advantage of the same Windows vulnerabilities that WannaCry exploited. But, instead of locking down systems with ransomware, these cybercriminals were putting them to work, using a cryptocurrency mining malware called Adylkuzz.
Here are a few tips to ensure your Android-devices are protected from crypto-mining malware:
- Download your apps from a legitimate source. While some malicious apps may slip through the cracks, app stores like Google Play do have security measures in place to protect users, and it’s much safer than downloading from an unknown source.
- Delete any apps that you haven’t used over the past 6-months. An app’s security can change over time; applications that were once supported by an app store can be flagged as malicious and removed from the platform without notification. If an app is no longer supported in the app store, you should delete it immediately.
- Keep all of your software up to date. Many of the more harmful malware attacks we’ve seen, like the Equifax data breach, take advantage of software vulnerabilities in common applications, such as operating systems and browsers. Having the latest software and application versions ensures that any known bugs or exploits are patched, and is one of the best defenses against viruses and malware.
- Double up on your mobile security software. I can’t stress enough how important is to use comprehensive security software to protect your personal devices.