Cybercriminals could be making a significant profit by infecting computers with programs that mine for Zcash, a new cryptocurrency that still has a relatively high value.
Launched in late October, Zcash (ZEC) is similar to Bitcoin, but the sender, recipient and value of transactions can be hidden. It was initially worth $30,000 per unit, but its value declined steadily as the number of units increased. At the time of writing, one ZEC is worth 0.06 BTC or $49.
Zcash is currently one of the most profitable cryptocurrencies, which is why it has attracted the attention of cybercriminals. Kaspersky Lab has reported seeing roughly 1,000 devices infected with Zcash miners. At the current value of ZEC, the people controlling these 1,000 miners could make thousands of dollars each month and tens of thousands of dollars per year.
The security firm said it had not spotted any attempts to install these Zcash miners using website vulnerabilities or email spam campaigns. Cybercrooks have been disguising the miners as legitimate applications and distributed them via torrent websites.
However, experts warn that their tactics could change at any time – attackers could start delivering miners to computers that are already infected with malware.
The mining applications (e.g. Micemash) are not actually malicious, which is why they are often not flagged as a threat by security products. Kaspersky products detect the Zcash miners as not-a-virus:RiskTool.Win64.BitCoinMiner, but the company pointed out that users must enable protection for unwanted software if they want this type of software to be detected.
Once installed on a computer, the miners will typically have names that are similar to legitimate applications, such as system.exe, diskmngr.exe, taskmngr.exe or svchost.exe. In order to ensure that the mining program is executed every time the computer starts, the attackers use either the task scheduler or registry keys.
While these miners are not actually malicious, they can create problems if installed on a computer without the user’s consent.
“Firstly, these operations are power hungry: the computer uses up a lot more electricity, which, in some countries, could mean the user ends up with a hefty electricity bill,” explained Kaspersky’s Alexander Gostev. “Secondly, a mining program typically devours up to 90% of the system’s RAM, which dramatically slows down both the operating system and other applications running on the computer. Not exactly what you want from your computer.”