Post authored by Nick Biasini.
As 2018 draws to a close, one technology has definitively left its mark on the year: cryptocurrencies. Digital currencies started the year out strong after a meteoric rise toward the end of 2017. Since then, it’s safe to say that cryptocurrencies have had a massive impact globally, especially on the threat landscape. However, 2018 is ending on a sour note for these currencies, as they have been in steady decline, ending in a sudden drop resulting in losses in excess of 75 percent of their value from the highs of late 2017 and early 2018.
Malicious cryptocurrency mining was the new payload of choice for adversaries and recurring revenue, dislodging the lump-sum payouts of threats like ransomware atop the threat landscape.
But the sudden collapse of the market, after a gradual decline, raises the question about how the threat landscape would be impacted, if at all. Despite conventional wisdom, Cisco Talos hasn’t seen a notable shift away from cryptocurrency mining. We have seen pockets of movement, but they have lived explicitly in the email space where both threat distribution and botnets play a crucial role. As 2018 proceeded, adversaries have shifted payloads in the email space away from cryptocurrency mining and toward more modular threats like Emotet and remote access trojans (RATs). Talos is also releasing another blog today outlining some of the campaigns we’ve seen recently from some well-known actors who have a history with cryptocurrency mining.
After reviewing the real-world impact and associated data, it appears that cryptocurrency mining is not slowing down, and if anything, could be slightly increasing in frequency for certain aspects of the landscape. As we move into 2019, it’s likely that the payloads of choice will continue to diverge between different aspects of the threat landscape. Regardless, enterprises need to be prepared to deal with malicious or unauthorized cryptocurrency mining activities on their respective networks, because it’s not going away — at least not yet.