The Dark Side of the Digital Gold Rush
The threat landscape is constantly changing; over the last few years malware threat vectors, methods and payloads have rapidly evolved. Recently, as cryptocurrency values have exploded, mining related attacks have emerged as a primary interest for many attackers who are beginning to recognize that they can realize all of the financial upside of previous attacks, like ransomware, without needing to actually engage the victim and without the extraneous law enforcement attention that comes with ransomware attacks.
This focus on mining isn’t entirely surprising, considering that various cryptocurrencies along with “blockchain” have been all over the news as the value of these currencies has exponentially increased. Adversaries have taken note of these gains and have been creating new attacks that help them monetize this growth. Over the past several months Talos has observed a marked increase in the volume of cryptocurrency mining software being maliciously delivered to victims.
In this new business model, attackers are no longer penalizing victims for opening an attachment, or running a malicious script by taking systems hostage and demanding a ransom. Now attackers are actively leveraging the resources of infected systems for cryptocurrency mining. In these cases the better the performance and computing power of the targeted system, the better for the attacker from a revenue generation perspective. IoT devices, with their lack of monitoring and lack of day to day user engagement, are fast becoming an attractive target for these attackers, as they offer processing power without direct victim oversight. While the computing resources within most IoT devices are generally limited, the number of exposed devices that are vulnerable to publicly available exploits is high which may make them attractive to cyber criminals moving forward.
To put the financial gains in perspective, an average system would likely generate about $0.25 of Monero per day, meaning that an adversary who has enlisted 2,000 victims (not a hard feat), could generate $500 per day or $182,500 per year. Talos has observed botnets consisting of millions of infected systems, which using our previous logic means that these systems could be leveraged to generate more than $100 million per year theoretically. It is important to note that due to volatility present across cryptocurrency markets, these values may change drastically from day to day. All calculations in this blog were made based on XMR/USD at the time of this writing.