A new study by Kaspersky Lab has found that incidents of cryptocurrency related ransomware declined 30% since 2016 from 2.58 million to 1.81 million, while simultaneously cryptocurrency mining malware incidents have risen 44.5% from 1.9 million to 2.74 million. Kaspersky Lab suspects that there is a direct causation between these statistics, they say cybercriminals have turned their backs on ransomware and are embracing cryptocurrency mining. This is because cryptocurrency mining malware supplies botnet masters with a consistent long-term income, as opposed to one-off rewards from ransomware that are much less frequent and come with much higher legal risk.

The main reason crypto mining malware is overtaking ransomware is because Bitcoin and cryptocurrency prices have gone up 1,000% since last year. This price increase has made it possible for hackers to make an easy living off a crypto mining malware botnet. Now they can infect 10 times fewer computers and make the same profits.

Cryptocurrency mining malware harnesses the processing power of an infected computer to generate cryptocurrency via the proof of work (PoW) algorithm. While mining cryptocurrency with a CPU or GPU is mostly obsolete at this point, it can be very profitable for botnet masters who are mining with hundreds or thousands of computers at once and not paying for electricity. All they have to do is create a script that uploads a cryptocurrency miner to a computer and sends the profits to a cryptocurrency address they control, and then spread the file. Often they spoof files to look like movies or popular software and put them on peer to peer torrent sites. When a user downloads the spoofed file nothing happens from their perspective, but the miner downloads in the background.

The unfortunate side effect of crypto mining malware is that a computer’s fan will tend to be on all the time, causing lots of noise, and even with constant fan usage, the computer can still overheat, shortening its lifespan. Also, an infected computer will use much more electricity than normal, directly causing loss of money for the victim, although probably not enough of a difference to notice on the bill.

All things considered though, crypto mining malware is not as bad as ransomware. A keen computer user can simply monitor the running processes on their computer to spot the mining malware and then delete it. Quite the contrary, ransomware seizes up the entire computer, and in the best case scenario, a user has to wipe the whole computer clean. In the worst case scenario, if they need their files, they have to actually pay the ransom to unlock their computer. Hackers design crypto mining malware so it runs quietly in the background, they want their victims to be able to use their computers smoothly so the mining malware stays running long term.

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