What Is Crypto Malware and How to Avoid It?

By Jayden Andrews. April 28, 2020

Crypto malware is considered one of the top security threats of the past year. As a matter of fact, the statistics provided by the ad blocking firm AdGuard show that over 500 million users have been affected by unauthorized activities of cryptomining malware.

Among the latest malware threats, crypto mining malware is considered particularly insidious because it may secretly feed on CPU resources to do its work. The longer it stays on a PC, the more cryptocurrency it mines.

As a silent threat, it’s not likely to go away. As a matter of fact, cyber security professionals think that it will still be among the top threats of the year.

Now, should you be worried? Well, it depends. However, the first step towards prevention is always understanding. Let us begin by understanding the basic

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What Is a Crypto Virus?

Because of crypto malware’s detrimental effect on a computer, it is sometimes called a crypto virus. A crypto virus is a ransomware virus that encrypts files on a compromised device. Its attacks are on the rise, with more than $1 billion paid every year, as estimated by the government of the United States.

When it attacks a system, it usually sends the victim an email that contains an attachment. Once clicked, it will begin infecting the computer and encrypting or encoding files. The person behind the attack will then inform the victim that their files are being held hostage. Unless they pay a ransom in Bitcoin, they will not be able to retrieve their files.

The Most Popular Crypto Malware: CryptoLocker

Crypto malware is continuously evolving, so it is quite difficult to keep track of its different strains. Although each crypto malware variant has its own unique way of doing its work, the majority of them rely on the same tactics to deceive users. Among all crypto malware entities, it is the CryptoLocker ransomware that has gotten the world’s attention. But what is this crypto malware strain all about? What does it do?

CryptoLocker is a known crypto malware strain that has been affecting data-driven organizations. Once its code has been executed, it will encrypt all the files on desktops and on the network. The files will be held for ransom. When trying to open any of the files, a message will show, asking the user to pay a fee for decrypting them.

Malware entities like CryptoLocker can penetrate even the most protected networks through different channels, such as file-sharing sites, downloads, and email attachments. Its newer strains elude even the strongest firewall and antivirus technologies.

So, how do you prevent it? Simple. The more files a user account can access, the more damage the crypto malware can do. Restricting access is thus the best course of action as it will limit the number of files that can be encrypted.

Crypto Malware vs. Ransomware

Nowadays, ransomware is becoming less popular because of the rise of crypto malware. However, it may not completely go away. Both malware entities are designed with one goal in mind: to make money.

In most cases, crypto malware is confused with ransomware. But the truth is, they are two different entities. While one may not be noticed right away, the other one shows obvious signs of infection. So, which is which?

Ransomware may ask the victim to pay the ransom right away. Crypto malware, on the other hand, may operate indefinitely, benefiting the attacker without the victim knowing.

The Effects of Crypto Malware

Cryptomining is not really about stealing data. It actually focuses on using your system resources, eating up processing power and bandwidth. As a result, your PC slows down and your overall productivity is impacted.

Users who ignore cryptominers may notice that the graphics cards in their units eventually die, the processors quickly burn out, or the RAM triggers the appearance of various error messages.

How to Prevent Crypto Malware Attacks

Like other forms of cyberattacks, criminal cryptomining uses some forms of malicious payloads. So, to ensure you don’t fall prey to this malware, we suggest you take the following actions:

1. Always update your antivirus or anti-malware protection software. There may be patches or updates that can help detect the newest types of ransomware.

2. Do not believe phishing scams. Phishing emails are among the most common delivery mechanisms for ransomware entities.

3. Have a backup of your important files. It will be easier and faster to recover your files from a backup than it is to decrypt them.

4. Always monitor file activity and processes on your machine. Odd behaviors might be a sign of ransomware operating on your system.

5. Visit trusted websites only. Make sure you visit only those that use HTTPS.

6. Use a VPN when surfing the web. VPNs not only encrypt your traffic and data but also keep malware entities at bay. That is why experts recommend using only quality VPN services when connecting to the web.

7. If possible, use a reliable password manager. Attackers usually make malicious emails appear as if they are coming from the website they are trying to imitate. With a password manager, you will be protected against these fraudulent emails because it will not provide your password credentials if you are on a fake website.

8. Use an anonymous crypto wallet. When choosing a crypto wallet, it is important that you check the wallet’s security features to know if it can securely and privately store your funds. Among the best crypto wallets that we suggest are Samourai Wallet, Ledger Nano X, Rahakott Wallet, Electrum On Tails Operating System, and PINT Wallet.

How to Recover from a Crypto Malware Attack

If you have been attacked by crypto malware, you can take these steps for recovery:

  • Format your device and reinstall all the affected programs and apps. This is usually the best way to get rid of the malware. For certain crypto malware strains, there are special removal tools available. Research them and consider them as an alternative.
  • Always restore data from clean backups. In the event that decryption is not possible, this method can be used to avoid paying the ransom.
    Reassess the security levels of your installed software. Ensure all your apps and programs are up-to-date by installing the most recent security patches.
  • Report the incident to local law enforcement agencies. Each country handles cybercrimes differently. But generally, law enforcement agencies urge individuals to report the incident to avoid paying the ransom.

The Most Basic Crypto Terms and Their Definitions

Before we wrap it up, let’s have a look at some crypto terms you may encounter in the long run. While some of them are already very familiar, others have just been newly introduced.

Cryptocurrency – This is a type of currency that is created based on a cryptographic algorithm. Although it is widely used for legitimate purposes, it has also become the preferred currency of cybercriminals because this currency cannot be easily tracked. Among all cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is probably the most popular. However, for cybercriminals, Monero is the best choice.

Cryptomining – This is the process of mining or creating a unit of cryptocurrency. Most popular cryptocurrencies are based on high-level mathematical problems that need to be solved. Once solved, another unit of that currency is created. When traded, it can be converted into real money.

Crypto Exchange – This is where you go when you need to convert your cryptocurrency into real money. More often than not, these crypto exchanges have poor security in place. That is why they are a favorite target for attacks.

Criminal Cryptomining – Mining cryptocurrencies is completely legal. But some cybercriminals have started taking advantage of others’ resources to mine cryptocurrencies for their own personal benefit. One technique they use is installing a malicious entity on an unsuspecting victim’s computer.

Cryptojacking – This is a form of criminal cryptomining that hijacks a victim’s system via web browsers or web servers. In the process, a JavaScript file is injected into vulnerable servers. Once a user visits the website, the file is executed in their browser, which will eventually turn their computer into a cryptominer. But as soon as the user leaves the webpage, the browser returns to normal. This means that the cybercriminals can only mine cryptocurrencies if the user keeps the infected page open.

Crypto Malware – Also referred to as a crypto virus, it is a program that does the criminal cryptomining. Unlike ransomware, it can do its work completely undetected. The goal is not to steal information. Instead, it just quietly mines cryptocurrency in the background.

Mining Pool – This is a collection of devices that are used together to mine cryptocurrency.

Wrapping Up

If the affected files contain private data, having them encrypted by crypto malware means losing that information. And if the data is critical to an organization – for instance, the contact details of thousands of employees, clients and business partners – the loss can significantly impact the business.

So, should you give in to the ransom demand? Well, here’s what you should know. Crypto malware works on the assumption that the victim will be affected enough by losing access to the files thathe/she should be willing to pay the ransom.

Now, according to security experts and law enforcement agencies, a victim should refrain from paying the ransom. It will only urge the cyber attackers to demand more as they think that their tactics are effective. There is even a chance that they won’t decrypt the files.

The best way to keep crypto malware attacks at bay is prevention. Proactively monitoring network traffic and device activity helps you better identify any potential red flags that may be signs of an infection.

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