What Are Cryptocurrencies?
I’m sure most of you reading this have heard about cryptocurrency in one form or another. Some of you may have even invested in this new form of currency. But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the different cryptocurrencies and how they work, I’ll go over some very basic knowledge before jumping into cryptojacking and its effects.
Cryptocurrencies are a secure digital asset that have exploded in both popularity and value over the past year. There are many different types of cryptocurrencies in circulation today. Aside from the most well-known (and valuable) Bitcoin, there is Ethereum, Ripple, and Monero. It’s important to understand how Monero differs from the others, since it’s the primary currency being used in cryptojacking efforts.
While it may be difficult to uncover the real name behind a bitcoin address, it is certainly possible. And once that name is uncovered, a simple person search can be used to find out everything there is to know about that individual. Monero on the other hand is completely anonymous and notoriously difficult to track payments. That is why its been so widely adopted by the online black market.
Unlike traditional forms of money that print new bills to add to circulation, a specialized process know as “mining” is used to create new cryptocurrency. Without going too in-depth, the practice of mining essentially uses your computer’s processor to solve complex mathematical sequences. Once the correct solution is found, the user will be awarded a predetermined amount of cryptocurrency. In order to be successful at mining however, a massive amount of processing power is needed. This is why most miners build specialized computers and join groups of other miners to increase the power of their networks.
Cryptojacking And How It Can Affect Your Device
Contrary to it’s name, the term cryptojacking does not refer to stealing an individual’s currency. Instead, cryptojacking refers to stealing computing resources (and the electricity used to power those resources) from an individual’s computer in order to mine for cryptocurrency.
The first wide-spread instances of cryptojacking were reported back in September when Showtime and the popular torrent site The Pirate Bay were found to have injected cryptojacking code into their websites. While it’s unclear what method Showtime used, The Pirate Bay admitted to testing a new program called Coinhive in hopes of replacing their notoriously terrible ads. Essentially what this program does is turn any visiting computer into a mining tool for the host website. As a result, any Internet users browsing The Pirate Bay were subjected to an increased CPU load.
The issue with cryptojacking isn’t that websites are trying to monetize their traffic. In fact, some researchers believe this technique, in a more legitimate form, could actually help websites reduce the need for advertisements. The problem is, websites running these programs are using their visitor’s computer resources without their permission. Not only is this an invasive practice, it can also impact the lifespan of the computer itself. One researcher found that having multiple tabs opened to known cryptojacking websites easily brought the computers CPU load up to 100%. Prolonged usage at these rates can significantly reduce the lifetime of internal components. In some cases, important components can be irreversibly damaged, rendering the whole system inoperable.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Now that you’re all caught up, let’s take a look at some ways you can protect your devices. The first thing to look into would be your anti-virus software. Some of these programs, such as Malwarebytes, offer tools that can block cryptojacking scripts. If your anti-virus software doesn’t have such a tool, then you can download an extension for your browser that will do the same thing. One such example is the NoCoin extension for the Chrome browser. If extensions aren’t really your thing, you could instead download the new Opera browser. As of today, Opera’s 50th version will come standard with cryptojacking protection. Choose the option which best suits your needs and remember to always keep an eye on your computer’s performance.