Security report highlights massive rise of cryptocurrency malware in 2018

In what should come as a shock to absolutely no one, cryptocurrency malware skyrocketed in 2018. What is mildly surprising, however, is to what extent it rose—4,000 percent, according to a new security report published by McAfee.

"Mining cryptocurrency via malware is one of the big stories of 2018. Total 'coin miner' malware has grown more than 4,000 percent in the past year," McAfee stated (PDF).

This type of malware was virtually nonexistent for much of 2017. As cryptocurrency mining became more prevalent, the spread of malware attempting to tap into other people's system resources without their permission rose in rapid fashion as well. It didn't just affect Windows PCs, either.

"Security researcher Remco Verhoef discovered a Mac OS threat later named OSX.Dummy, which was distributed on cryptomining chat groups. The exploitation is simple, requiring victims to execute a one-line command in the OSX terminal to download and execute the payload," the report states.

"Cryptominers will take advantage of any reliable scenario. Some security researchers discovered that unofficial repositories of the open-source media player Kodi have served a modified add-on that delivers cryptominer malware. This operation started in 2017," the report adds.

Crypto-malware also targeted wireless routers and IoT devices. Low-power gadgets don't have much computing muscle to contribute, but there is strength in numbers, and that's what malware authors had in mind.

We suspect there will be a steep decline in cryptocurrency mining in 2019. That is, unless there is another surge. Hopefully that doesn't happen though—cryptocurrency mining was a scourge for many gamers this past year, as it contributed to a shortage of graphics cards and inflated prices. It wasn't the sole contributor—memory pricing played a role too—but it was certainly a factor.

Interestingly, McAfee observed a decline in ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts a person's hard drive and threatens to permanently delete the contents unless the target pays a ransom, oftentimes in Bitcoin. McAfee surmises that digital crooks switched to the more lucrative business model of distributing cryptocurrency miner malware.