Monero Mining Malware Botnet Operations

Monero Mining Malware Botnet Operations

Academics say malware authors might have cashed out at least $57 million worth of Monero over the course of the last four years.

An estimated 4.32 percent of all the Monero XMR cryptocurrency currently in circulation has been mined by botnets and cyber-criminal operations, according to a study published earlier this month by academics in Spain and the UK."Monero Mining Malware Botnet Operations"

Monero Mining Malware Botnet Operations

The study research was one of the biggest undertakings of its kind in recent years. Scientists analyzed around 4.4 million mining malware samples to identify one million malware strains that mined cryptocurrency on infected hosts.

The botnet malware strains they analyzed spanned a period of a whopping 12 years, between 2007 and 2018.

The research group says it looked at IOCs (indicators of compromise) and used static and dynamic analysis techniques to extract information from malware strains, such as cryptocurrency addresses and Crypto mining pools that malware strains used in the past to collect and funnel digital money through.

Research team used the data they collected to track down past payments from mining pools to the groups behind each wallet. Further, the also organized the malware strains in ads campaigns based on similarities and shared cryptocurrency addresses.

According to the study research findings, while some groups mined various cryptocurrencies in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Monero (XMR) is by far the most popular cryptocurrency among cyber-criminals in underground economies, at the current time.

Excluding the earnings of groups that mined Monero using rogue JavaScript code loaded in users' browsers (a technique called crypto jacking), researchers say that crypto-mining malware botnets have been responsible for mining 4.32 percent of all Monero coins.

"Although this depends on when criminals cash-out their earnings, we estimate that the total revenue accounts for nearly [$57 million]," researchers said in their paper.

Some cyber criminal groups have been more efficient than others. Researchers say that the groups who rented malware and third-party server infrastructure on underground marketplaces were usually more successful than the vast majority of groups who built their own tools.

However, overall, regardless if they rented the botnet malware or built it themselves, the most successful groups were the ones who used botnets to deploy their malware at scale.

The report mentions previously well-known Monero XMR-mining campaigns such as Adylkuzz and Smominru, but researchers also said they uncovered new groups, with the biggest being one they called Freebuf and one called USA-138.

One group, in particular, made over $18 million worth of Monero, which would round up to roughly 1.45 percent of all Monero coins.

Some of these groups existed for small periods of time, but others updated their infrastructure and malware constantly, still being active to this day. Researchers say crooks usually modified their code when their XMR addresses got banned from certain mining pools, or when they needed to update the malware to apply mining protocol changes.

When research team looked at what mining pool criminal groups preferred to handle mining operations and withdrawals to their private addresses, by far the number one choice was, responsible for cashing out $47 million of the $57 million the researchers managed to track.

While research team saw some criminal groups put efforts into monero mining other cryptocurrencies in past years, Monero is now the preferred cryptocurrencies for almost all crypto-mining operations.

The reason is not hard to guess, as mining Bitcoin mining algorithm based Cryptocurrency have now a higher mining difficulty and also need special hardware, which makes deploying malware mining these types of Cryptocurrency on regular PCs both useless and unprofitable.

The last conclusion of this research paper, but not the least interesting, is that most of today's criminal mining operations rely on the open source tool named xmrig, around which most crooks have built their crypto-mining malware around.

While research team more botnet malware samples built around the Claymore mining software, most of the active malware campaigns they tracked used a xmrig-based malware strain.

This statistics can be explained by the somewhat experimental nature of Bitcoin BTC based cryptocurrency mining malware strain in the late 2000s when malware authors toyed around with Bitcoin mining malware but never deployed it in the types of large campaigns we've seen Monero XMR miners deployed in the past two years.

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