Bitcoin’s rapid rise in value could make ordinary computer users more vulnerable to hackers, cyber security experts have warned.
Interest in cryptocurrencies has skyrocketed over recent weeks, and researchers say this has led to more and more computers being secretly infected with malware.
The easiest way to get involved with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is to sign up to a wallet service, but more serious investors tend to “mine” them by solving complex, encrypted calculations, which requires a huge amount of computing power.
They’re now getting other people to unwittingly help them out.
“Cryptocurrency mining is on the rise. In fact in just the first eight months of 2017 more computers were infected with malware to mine cryptocurrency than in all of 2016,” Raj Samani, chief scientist at McAfee, told The Independent.
“The reason is of course understandable with the continual rise in bitcoin price hitting record highs. This approach allows criminals to mine for free, leaving its victims to sacrifice their computers for criminal gain.”
Last week, a Starbucks customer discovered that the Wi-Fi service provided by several branches in Buenos Aires had secretly hijacked his computer, to use its processing power to mine for the cryptocurrency Monero.
Fibertel, the internet provider in charge of the Wi-Fi, told Motherboard that hackers had planted the mining code on its network.
“It doesn’t take a genius to note that the number of mining malware incidents is increasing, at the same time as the value of cryptocurrency. The effort required compared to the reward is worth it for the cyber bad guys,” Neil Haskins, cyber security firm IOActive’s director of advisory services for EMEA, told The Independent.
At the time of publication, bitcoin is worth $18,310 (£13,712), with its value up more than 2,210 per cent over the last year.
“According to Fibertel and Starbucks, the issue was isolated to Buenos Aires and has been resolved. But we all know that if it’s happening there, it’s highly likely to be happening somewhere else,” Haskins adds.
“It’s also important to note that it’s not just individual private users that should be concerned. Imagine the kind of mining power a cyber bad guy could generate if they were to infiltrate your whole company, and in some cases, your standard anti malware products aren’t stopping this from happening.
“So if you notice your computer running slowly, or the electricity bill going up as you drink your latte, you might just be an inadvertent crypto miner.”