Have Crypto-Miners Infiltrated Your Public Cloud?

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How do you know if bad actors are siphoning off your power and racking up huge bills for your organization? These silent malware scripts could be infecting your public cloud infrastructure right now, but would you even know it? 

Crytpo Basics

The concept of crypto-jacking is fairly simple. A script (or malware) infects a host computer and silently steals CPU power for the purpose of mining crypto-currency. 

It first gained popularity in 2017 with ThePirateBay website, which infected its visitors with the malware. Its popularity surged in 2018 with companies like Coinhive, that promised ad-free web browsing in exchange for CPU power. Coinhive, and others like it, lowered the barrier to entry for criminals and was quickly exploited by ‘crypto-gangs’ that leveraged the scripts to infect multitudes of popular websites across the globe and mine for Monero. 

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Most individuals could not detect the malware unless it over-taxed the device. Common symptoms of crypto-jacking malware include device performance degradation, batteries overheating, device malfunction, and increases in power consumption. During its peak in December, 2017, Symantec claimed to have blocked more than 8 million cryptojacking events across its customer base.

Shifting Targets

Then, market conditions changed. Many end-point security solutions learned to identify and blacklist crypto-mining malwares running on individual endpoints. Coinhive (and many copycat companies) have been shut down. The price of crypto-currency crashed, which made smaller mining operations unprofitable. So, hackers looking for the larger payoff continued to develop more sophisticated crypto-jacking malwaresand went hunting for the bigger fish.

It is no surprise that crypto-miners have shifted the targets of their malware from individuals to enterprises. Public cloud infrastructure is an incredibly attractive target. Even an army of infected personal devices can’t deliver the kind of concentrated and unlimited CPU power of a large enterprise’s public cloud infrastructure. In the eyes of a miner, it’s like looking at a mountain of gold— and often, that gold is under-protected.

Digital transformation has pushed the migration of most enterprise networks into some form of public cloud infrastructure. In doing so, these companies have inadvertently increased their attack surface and handed the access to its developers and DevOps.

Essentially, due to the dynamic nature of public cloud environment (which makes it harder to keep a stable and hardened environment over time), as well as the ease with which permissions are granted to developers and DevOps, the attack surface is dramatically increased.

[You may also like: Excessive Permissions are Your #1 Cloud Threat]

Hackers of all types have identified and exploited these security weaknesses, and crypto-jackers are no exception. Today, there are thousands of different crypto-jacking malwares out in the wild. Crypto-jacking still generates huge profits for hackers.

In fact, crypto-jackers exploited vulnerable Jenkins servers to mine more than $3M worth of Monero currency. Jenkins continuous integration server is an open source automation server written in Java. Jenkins is widely used across the globe with a growing community of more than 1 million users, and generates massive amounts of potential unpatched Jenkins servers, which made it a desirable target for crypto-jackers.  Tesla also suffered losses and public embarrassment when crypto-jackers targeted an unprotected Kubernetes console and used it to spin up large amounts of containers to do their own mining operation on behalf of Tesla’s cloud account.

[You may also like: Managing Security Risks in the Cloud]

Protect Yourself

So what can organizations do to keep the crypto-miners out of their public clouds? 

  • Secure the public cloud credentials. If your public cloud credentials are breached, attackers can leverage them to launch numerous types of attacks against your public cloud assets, of which crypto-jacking is one.  
  • Be extra careful about public exposure of hosts. Hackers can utilized unpatched and vulnerable hosts exposed to the internet in order to install crypto mining clients to utilize cloud native infrastructure for crypto mining activity.
  • Limit excessive permissions. In the public cloud, your permissions are the attack surface. Always employ the principle of less privileges, and continuously limit excessive permissions.
  • Install public cloud workload protection services that can detect and block crypto-mining activities. These should include the automatic detection of anomalous activities in your public cloud, the correlation of such events, which is indicative of malicious activity, and scripts to automatically block such activity upon its detection.  

Read “The Trust Factor: Cybersecurity’s Role in Sustaining Business Momentum” to learn more.

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