You’ve probably seen a lot of words beginning with “crypto” in the news lately, and chances are you’ve heard of bitcoin – no matter where you work or what you do. Whether it was an ad on a website, or an article in a financial publication, cryptocurrencies (including bitcoin) have been getting a lot of press lately. We asked one of our security experts, Eric Monda, what you need to know about these currencies if you’re not familiar with them.
First off, here’s a brief glossary to help you out with all the crypto-jargon out there (and believe me, there’s a lot).
Glossary of Terms
- Bitcoin: A type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.
- Blockchain: A digital ledger in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly.
- Cryptomining: The process by which transactions are verified and added to the public ledger, known as the block chain, and also the means through which new bitcoin are released. Anyone with access to the internet and suitable hardware can participate in mining.
- Cryptocurrency: A digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.
- Cryptojacking: A form of cyber-attack in which a hacker hijacks a target’s processing power in order to mine cryptocurrency on the hacker’s behalf.
Why do people use Bitcoin?
Bitcoin was originally created as an alternative, decentralized payment method. Unlike international bank transfers at the time, it was low-cost and almost instantaneous. An added benefit for merchants (less so for users) was that it was irreversible, removing the threat of expensive charge-backs. In some parts of the world, bitcoin is still a more efficient and cheaper way to transfer money across borders, and several remittance startups make use of this feature. Bitcoin’s cost and speed advantages, though, are being eroded as traditional channels improve (and the network’s fees continue to increase), and liquidity remains a problem in many countries.
What does it mean to “mine” cryptocurrency?
With paper money, a government decides when to print and distribute money. Bitcoin doesn’t have a central government. With Bitcoin, miners use special software to solve math problems and are issued a certain number of bitcoins in exchange. This provides a smart way to issue the currency and also creates an incentive for more people to mine. (https://www.bitcoinmining.com)
How prevalent is this, and how many people are really doing this today?
Currently, there are almost 28.5 million bitcoin wallets that hold more than 0.001 BTC according to data compiled by Bitinfocharts.com
Are people doing this at work?
Unless there are restrictions in place to prevent such activities from occurring (i.e. certain firewall rules), it is possible! That said, typically very powerful computers are needed and the average business-class computer would not be able to properly handle the mining process.
Why should I/my business care about Bitcoin/Blockchain/Cryptocurrency?
You may not – and that’s okay! However, there are instances where it might cross your path, such as your network being exposed to a Ransomware attack. The payments for those, should you choose to make them – are usually demanded in Bitcoin. It’s also something to watch if you believe your employees are interested in it, as cryptomining websites could potentially pose a security risk (see below) and can also impact performance and productivity.
What are the risks of cryptomining?
Malware is very prevalent with cryptomining. Many mining programs, Bitcoin sites and digital currencies may download malicious software on your computer. There are official sites and services that are considered credible, but many more fake websites that claim to give you the advantage of getting these currencies.
Also, If machines accesses website with cryptojacking (coinhive, etc), this can greatly affect the performance of the computer which affects the user’s ability to work.
How do I know if cryptojacking has occurred on my systems?
- The number one sign is poor performance. You many hear the fan running very loudly in your computer or laptop.
- While viewing your task manager, you would see the affected web browser (IE, Chrome, Safarai, etc.) running at a high CPU usage.
Do I really need to worry about this right now?
It’s always beneficial to be aware of trends and new technologies. While Bitcoin may not have an immediate impact on you today, some legitimate websites are looking to begin using cryptomining in lieu of the traditional ads. While this may not pose a security risk to your organization, it could have an impact on employee’s performance, utilization and even power consumption.
So far, the usage of cryptocurrencies in the business community has been rather limited, although more companies are adopting policies allowing for bitcoin and blockchain to be used in their businesses. For now, the trend has for the most part stayed within the technology industry. This is just a brief introduction to the evolving world of cryptocurrency, but it’s something that we think we will be exposed to more frequently as more and more industries become aware and involved.