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Is your phone making money for somebody else? The rise of the mobile crypto-miners

Patrick Devaney

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Everybody is talking about crypto-coins. Bitcoin and Ethereum have seen their values reach such astronomical highs that people have made and lost life-changing fortunes in the blink of an eye. Cryptocurrency has caught everybody’s attention, including hackers and cyber-criminals.

The torrent site Pirate Bay was the first site to run code that would secretly use the computers of all who logged on the site to mine crypto-coins for the Pirate Bay developers. Since then, this type of malicious code has been found on lots of websites, and unfortunate users visiting these sites have seen their PC performance fall through the floor as it focuses on crypto-mining rather than running the applications and programs the user wants it to run.

Moving to mobile

Although mobiles might not be as powerful crypto-mining tools as desktop pcs, a quantity not quality approach still makes them useful tools for cybercriminals.

Unfortunately, according to Kaspersky Labs, crypto-miners have now made the jump to mobile, mostly Android, so the phone in your pocket is now vulnerable to being hijacked. Mobile devices are a lot less efficient at crypto-mining than desktop PCs, but there are a few factors that make them attractive to hackers looking to cash in.

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Kaspersky reported that there are a number of simple frameworks available that make creating a mobile app that can mine cryptocurrency on mobiles relatively easy. These apps can then be distributed in a number of ways. It’s quite common for users to share apps directly via apk files, bypassing the official app stores and the security systems they have in place. Even those security systems have gaps in them, however, that malicious apps can sneak through. Kaspersky noted that the various forms of infected apps were downloaded over 150,000 times from the Google Play Store itself before Google removed them.

Things to look out for

It can’t be stressed enough that prevention is the key defense tactic here.

All this means that your cell phone is now a target for criminals who are looking to cash in on cryptocurrency boom. This means you’ll have to be vigilant and keep your eye out for a number of signs that things aren’t right.

1. Primitive counterfeit apps

Kaspersky reported that some primitive versions of famous apps like Instagram and Netflix are being passed around by cybercriminals and various forms of crypto mining software are being added to them. These apps are then shared via download link. To avoid these types of apps only download apps from official app catalogs like Softonic or the Google Play Store.

2. Increased battery use

Mining crypto coins is an intensive operation, so if your phone has been infected with crypto-mining software, you’ll notice your battery dying a lot faster than usual.

3. Your phone heating up

Again, this is due to how hard your device will have to work to mine crypto coins. If your phone is working overtime computing all of the calculations required to add a new coin to the blockchain, it’ll start to become noticeably hotter. Kaspersky even reported instances where its test phones were incinerated by the heat generated by the crypto mining process. On a side note to this, however, it seems that some cybercriminals are aware of this and are including malware that monitors the device battery and temperature in an attempt to mine cryptocurrency safely. This doesn’t mean it won’t still become hotter.

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What to do

If you detect any malicious apps, it is important that you remove them immediately. Kaspersky reported that a number of the apps will show scary messages about losing your data, but the important thing is to remove them completely from your mobile device. It can’t be stressed enough, however, that prevention is the key defense tactic here. Only download apps from official sources and even then keep an eye on things like the spelling of the app name and the developer’s name who is publishing it. Another thing to keep an eye on is the permissions the app asks for when you download it. For more tips on mobile security check out our 5 tips to prevent security issues with your phone.

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