Despite that at the moment, many crypto market players are primarily concerned about the prolonged fall in cryptocurrency rates, experts warn of growing threats in the field of cybersecurity. In particular, we are talking about cryptojacking, or hidden mining, the cases of which have increased by 400% since the beginning of the year. This is indicated by representatives of Kaspersky Lab. In Russia alone, the number of cases of cryptojacking increased from 3.5 million to 13 million. In the article below, we will discuss how the situation in the field of cryptosecurity has changed over the past 365 days and what to expect from 2019.
The unregulated crypto market has always been a lucrative target for criminals. In 2017, the international company MWR InfoSecurity, which provides cybersecurity solutions for banks and government agencies, published a report on the growth of criminal activity in the crypto market. It noted that the growing popularity of cryptocurrency had led to more and more players becoming victims of fraudsters.
Among the most notorious cases, one cannot but recall the kidnapping of Exmo Finance analyst Pavel Lerner, which occurred in Kyiv on December 26, 2017. Lerner was only released after he transferred all his Bitcoins to the kidnappers’ wallet, which eventually received about $1 million. Also, at the end of January of this year in the English city of Oxfordshire, four armed robbers entered the house of a cryptocurrency trader, Danny Aston, and forced him to transfer all his Bitcoins. The total amount of stolen cryptocurrencies at the time was £700,000.
There are also cases when criminals use cryptocurrencies for ransom. At the end of July of last year, the American television channel HBO was subject to a series of attacks from the hacker group OneMiner. As a result, the criminals managed to get access to the company’s social networks and internal correspondence, stealing about 1.5 TB of information and the episodes of popular TV series that had not yet been released. To prevent this information from entering the network, the attackers demanded $6 million in Bitcoin.
Now, however, criminals are increasingly turning to cryptojacking, or hidden mining, within which they can receive passive income even in the face of falling mining profitability. To do this, they distribute malware or scripts that use the computing power of the victim’s computer to mine cryptocurrencies. Cryptojackers also often use specialized sites, whose visitors become their victims without even knowing it. According to Cyren Security Lab, which has studied more than 500,000 websites, including those with malware, from September last year to January 2018, the number of such sites increased by 725%.
The fact that cryptojacking was becoming an increasingly common type of cyberattack was highlighted in Kaspersky Lab’s June report on the activity of extortionate software and miners of cryptocurrencies in 2016–2018. According to experts, if last year extortionists took leading positions among cyberthreats, then this year, cryptojackers took their place. This trend is also mentioned in the report of Cyber Threat Alliance, according to which, the number of cryptojacking attacks in 2018 increased by 459% compared to the previous year.
Moreover, the victims of hidden mining are often not ordinary users and holders of cryptocurrencies but entire companies and their servers, capable of bringing a substantial income to the attackers. For this, fraudsters use botnets, or networks of devices connected via the Internet, which are coordinated to perform specific tasks—in this case, cryptojacking. It is noteworthy that the use of botnets for cryptojacking could be the reason for reducing the number of DDoS attacks in the third quarter of 2018. According to Fabio Assolini, the leading researcher of security issues at Kaspersky Lab, the reason that cryptojacking became the leader among the main cyberthreats of the year was that hidden mining was almost invisible and did less harm than extortionate software, meaning it was more difficult to identify.
Kaspersky Lab Forecast for 2019
As for 2019, experts are confident that the cryptocurrency market will face even greater difficulties, in particular, in the following areas: reducing public interest in the blockchain, falling use of cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange, as well as protracted asset volatility.
First, the growth of the crypto market will cause the blockchain bubble to burst, and the use of technology outside of the crypto industry will be unlikely. “In the end, we expect this trend to be driven by people rather than the technology’s capability, as organizations and industries come to the conclusion that blockchain has a rather narrow scope of application, and most attempts to use in different ways are not justified. The reliable application of blockchain beyond cryptocurrency has been explored and experimented with for years, but there is little evidence of achievement. We expect 2019 to be the year people stop trying,” writes the report’s author, Alexey Malanov.
Secondly, experts note the imminent decline in interest in cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange. While in 2017, many suppliers of goods and services willingly accepted cryptocurrencies for payment, now the problems of high commissions, slow transactions, difficulties in integration, and, predominantly, a too small share of buyers interested in cryptocurrency payments will become the critical reasons for abandoning cryptocurrencies among large companies.
Thirdly, representatives of Kaspersky Lab doubt that next year the crypto market will reach the same highs as in 2017. According to experts, the number of people interested in cryptocurrencies is limited, and when this limit is reached, the price of cryptocurrencies will not grow.
Not all crypto market players, however, agree with a similar assessment of the future of the digital assets industry. For example, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the demand among partner companies for services related to the blockchain this year has reached about $1.7 billion. The report says that among 600 executives interviewed, 84% were actively looking for options to interact with blockchain, while 28% were confident that the key to success directly depends on the interoperability of their enterprise and business systems. Moreover, PwC has entered into a partnership agreement with the international blockchain company Bitfury Group, under which, the accelerators of the blockchain projects will be launched in Russia. These projects will design decentralized solutions based on the analysis of the needs of PwC corporate customers. Also in January 2019, the company will launch a two-year blockchain educational program aimed at developing technology awareness among PwC employees.