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More likely to drain batteries than make cash for crooks

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Cybercrooks are turning smartphones into digital currency-mining bots using mobile malware.

The cyber-menace, dubbed CoinKrypt by mobile security firm Lookout, is capable of hijacking the processor on smartphones to mine digital currency, enriching hackers in the process.

CoinKrypt has been confined thus far to Spanish pirated software distribution forums, though oddly most detections have cropped up across the Pyrenees in France.

Lookout has seen variants of the malware targeting Litecoin, Dogecoin and Casinocoin, yet ignoring the much more popular Bitcoin1. "This leads us to believe this criminal is experimenting with malware that can take advantage of lower-hanging digital currency fruit that might yield more coins with less work," Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at Lookout, explains.

Digital currency mining is possible for any ordinary computer or smartphone using a special piece of software. Miscreants have cranked the malware so that it runs at full throttle on compromised devices, which Lookout explains poses problems in itself:

As malware goes, CoinKrypt is about as basic as they come. Comprised of just three small program sections or classes embedded in the target app, all it really does is kick off the the mining process. However this lack of complexity is part of what makes it dangerous. Normal mining software is set up to throttle the rate at which coins are mined to protect the hardware it is running on. This includes no such protection and will drive the hardware to mine until it runs out of battery. Overheating associated with this kind of harsh use can also damage to hardware.

At best, users affected by this malware will find their phones getting warm and their battery life massively shortened. There's also the possibility that sensitive data might leak from compromised devices.

"While it doesn’t steal any information from your phone, mining can be incredibly resource-intensive and, if allowed to run without any limits, could potentially damage hardware by causing it to overheat and even burn out," Lookout warns.

The crooks behind the scam are highly unlikely to make money through their malfeasance, according to an experiment by Lookout.

Despite the fact that this malware author was likely targeting the lower hanging digital currency fruit, mining likely isn’t worth the return on investment for this malware. When we tested the feasibility of mining using a Nexus 4 by using Android mining software such as the application “AndLTC”, we were only able to attain a rate of about 8Kh/s - or 8,000 hash calculations per second, the standard unit of measure for mining. Using a Litecoin calculator and the difficulty setting mentioned above we can see that this would net us 0.01 LTC after seven days non stop mining. That’s almost 20 cents.

The latest samples of the malware are now targeting an even newer, or less-used digital currency.

Lookout has put together a blog post on the threat, with tips on how to stay safe, here. A related article on BitCoin malware can be found here.

Bootnote

1 Bitcoin mining these days requires a specialist GPU-based rig to get anywhere and is way beyond the productive capacity of ordinary computers, much less smartphones. CoinKrypt is the digital equivalent of a gold rush claim jumper, according to Lookout.

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