Mine a Million: Kaspersky Lab Identifies Sophisticated Hacker Groups Earning Millions Through Mining Malware

Number of Kaspersky Lab users attacked by malicious cryptocurrency miners in 2017 (Graphic: Kaspersky Lab)

WOBURN, Mass.--()--Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered cybercriminals have started using sophisticated infection methods and techniques borrowed from targeted attacks in order to install mining software on attacked PCs within organizations. The most successful groups observed by Kaspersky Lab earned millions of dollars by exploiting their victims in just six months during 2017.

Although the cryptocurrency market is experiencing ups and downs, last year’s phenomena with surges in the value of Bitcoin has significantly changed not only global economics, but cybersecurity as well. With the aim of earning cryptocurrency, criminals have started to use mining software in their attacks, which, like ransomware, has a simple monetization model. But, unlike ransomware, it doesn’t destructively harm users and is able to stay undetected for a long time by silently using the PC’s power. In September 2017, Kaspersky Lab recorded a rise of miners that started actively spreading across the world, and predicted its further development. The latest research reveals that this growth has not only continued, but has also increased and extended.

Kaspersky Lab researchers recently identified a cybercriminal group with APT techniques in their arsenal of tools to infect users with miners. They have been using the process-hollowing method that is usually used in malware and has been seen in some targeted attacks of APT actors, but has never been observed in mining attacks before.

The attack works in the following way: the victim is lured into downloading and installing an advertisement software with the miner installer hidden inside. This installer drops a legitimate Windows utility, with the main purpose of downloading the miner itself from a remote server. After its execution, a legitimate system process starts, and the legitimate code of this process is changed to malicious code. As a result, the miner operates under the guise of a legitimate task, so it will be impossible for a user to recognize if there is a mining infection. It is also challenging for security solutions to detect this threat. In addition, miners mark this new process through the way it restricts any task cancellation. If the user tries to stop the process, the computer system will reboot. As a result, criminals protect their presence in the system for a longer and more productive time.

Based on Kaspersky Lab’s observations, actors behind this kind of attack have been mining various coins and earned millions of dollars during the second half of 2017, which is comparable to the sums that ransomware creators used to earn.

“We see that ransomware is fading into the background, giving way to miners,” said Anton Ivanov, lead malware analyst, Kaspersky Lab. “This is confirmed by our statistics, which show a steady growth of miners throughout the year, as well as by the fact that cybercriminals groups are actively developing their methods and have already started to use more sophisticated techniques to spread mining software. We have already seen such an evolution – ransomware hackers were using the same tricks when they were on the rise.”

Overall, 2.7 million users were attacked by malicious miners in 2017, according to Kaspersky Lab data. That is approximately 50 percent higher than in 2016 (1.87 million). They have been falling victims as a result of adware, cracked games and pirated software used by cybercriminals to secretly infect their PCs. Another approach used was web mining through a special code located in an infected web page. The most widely used web miner was CoinHive, discovered on many popular websites.

In order to stay protected, Kaspersky Lab recommends users adhere to the following:

  • Don’t click on unknown websites, or suspicious banners and ads;
  • Do not download and open unknown files from untrusted sources;
  • Install a reliable security solution such as Kaspersky Internet Security or Kaspersky Free that detects and protects from all possible threats, including malicious mining software.

For organizations, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:

  • Carry out a security audit on a regular basis;
  • Install a reliable security solution on all workstations as well as servers, and make sure all components are enabled to ensure maximum protection. Kaspersky Lab customers are protected with Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business.

More information on miners’ activities can be found on Securelist.

Key trends in mining attacks and the latest discoveries of cryptocurrency threats will be presented at the Security Analyst Summit by Kaspersky Lab researchers on March 9, 2018.

About Kaspersky Lab

Kaspersky Lab is a global cybersecurity company, which has been operating in the market for over 20 years. Kaspersky Lab’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise is constantly transforming into next generation security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe. The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats. Over 400 million users are protected by Kaspersky Lab technologies and we help 270,000 corporate clients protect what matters most to them. Learn more at www.kaspersky.com.


Kaspersky Lab
Jessica Bettencourt, 774-451-5142


Kaspersky Lab
Jessica Bettencourt, 774-451-5142