Protecting Servers From Crypto-Mining Malware

Hackers are infecting business servers with harmful crypto-mining malware which can affect your systems. Here's how to prevent it.

If you didn’t have enough to protect your servers from—such as hardware failure, user error and ransomware—there’s now a new threat on the rise.

It’s called crypto-mining malware. The short explanation is if this malware makes it onto your server, it will hog all your resources to mine crypto-currencies. This process is known as cryptojacking.

It probably doesn’t sound that bad compared to all the other things that can befall your machines. After all, it’s not like ransomware where you’re being asked to pay thousands of dollars, or a virus that damages your data and systems.

The problem is, there’s a reason someone wants to hijack your system and mine crypto-currency on your machine instead of their machine. And it’s exactly the reason you don’t want this sort of infection.

What is Crypto-Mining Malware?

You may have heard of crypto-currencies, and how they’re a digital currency that’s soaring in value. But where does it come from?

The short story is basically from solving equations. Crypto-coin miners use special software to solve math equations, and are issued a certain number of coins in exchange.

So these are not the sort of equations you can solve by getting out a pen and paper and crunching some math. And solving one pays out like striking gold. That’s why you have people who have set up crypto-coin mining ‘farms’ – imagine rows and rows of graphics cards linked together, all trying to solve these equations.

Sounds quaint so far – just some hardware strapped together doing some math. Harmless, right? But there’s some big problems with it.

Firstly, the equations gets harder and harder over time – the easy ones are, of course, done first. That means mining becomes harder – and chews up more processing power. More processing power leads to hardware burning out at an incredible rate, and an obscene electricity bill. A lot of people run these farms in nations where electricity is cheap, like in Latin America.

But you’re still paying money, both in hardware costs and electricity. So someone thought ‘why not make other people pay the costs to mine our bitcoin?’

Enter crypto-mining malware – a form of malware that infects your system and gets it to mine crypto-coin. Not for you, of course, but for the person who infected your system in the first place.

Why Crypto-Mining Malware is Bad for Your Server

Cryptojacking is a threat to all devices. If run on mobile phones, the sheer heat generated from mining can physically warp an infected device.

While hardware damage of this type is really unlikely for your server, it is a problem if your resources are hijacked. That means if your server is running slow and this is at odds with its actual load, it might be infected with crypto-mining malware.

The other thing to be concerned about is having to foot the electrical bill that someone else doesn’t want to pay for crypto-coin mining.

How to Protect Against Crypto-Mining Malware

Crypto-mining malware may be a new form of malware, but it still needs to infect your system through the same routes. This means it is going to access your server through a weak point. This might be social engineering (tricking a user to click on a link, spear phishing, etc), abusing a known exploit in out-of-date software, or brute force.

Put in place your front-of-house protections such as firewalls and anti-malware software, and also engage in regular user training. On the back-end, you need to have backups in place so you can recover should this kind of ransomware compromise your systems.

Don’t rely on just one solution to protect you against this threat. Make sure you have an array of defenses, and a contingency plan for if your system is infected anyway. Performing a bare-metal recovery with an image backup should be there as your last resort if you can’t uninfect your compromised system.

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