February 25, 2014
Computer Malware Helping Thieves In Bitcoin Mining Operations
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers from the university looked at over 2,000 pieces of malware used by Bitcoin mining operations and were able to estimate how much money operators made off their operations. They found that the revenue of 10 of the mining operations studied reached at least 4,500 Bitcoins over two years, or the equivalent of about $607,500 in today’s value.
"At the current stratospheric value of Bitcoin, miners with access to significant computational horsepower are literally printing money," Danny Huang, a PhD student in computer science and the first author on the study, said in a statement.
Malware operations take over computers by using security flaws found in browsers or browser plug-ins. The malware infects computers with a series of programs that make the machines perform illegal activities. Operators can combine multiple computers to use the computational power to perform complex calculations required to mine Bitcoins.
In order to mine the online currency, the hackers must join a mining pool that shares its proceeds, similar to an office pool trying to win the lottery.
Researchers consulted public repositories of malware providers in order to find the Bitcoin mining operations. They also had to contact several people who run Bitcoin mining pools.
Alex Snoeren, a professor of computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, said Bitcoin mining has the potential to change the game in malware. He said if it ever becomes very profitable, it could reinvigorate the malware industry.
Most of the malware-infected computers were located in Europe, but some could also be found in Asia, Latin America and even the US. In all, the team found computers in more than 60 countries that were affected by the mining operation.
The team said that most botnet managers moved the mined Bitcoins into exchanges where they could be converted into dollars within a few days.
"We wanted to know if these were Bitcoin enthusiasts who turned to the dark side," Kirill Levchenko, a research scientist and one of the paper's lead authors, said in a statement. "This behavior suggests they're not."
The researchers found that these Bitcoin miners were doing so openly, in public places, and authorities were hesitant to do anything about the operations.
"This could be the equivalent of tax evasion for Al Capone," Snoeren said.
Bitcoins have grown in popularity and risen in value over the years. One man was even able to cash in his $27 Bitcoin investment in 2009 for $886,000 in April 2013 to buy an apartment, according to The Guardian. However the online currency has seen a big setback after one of the most popular online Bitcoin exchanges went offline due to a security leak.
According to The Telegraph, a leaked document found that MtGox has lost about $374 million worth of Bitcoins. The news led MtGox to close its doors, meaning thousands of users with Bitcoin investments were locked out of the exchange.