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What is Bitcoin – and how could it hurt my computer?

bitcoinHave you heard of “Bitcoin”? In the last few months, the cyber currency has dramatically increased in value and in newspaper coverage. But while Bitcoin’s growth has been great for early investors, it could be awful for computer users around the world.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is an online currency that people can get in three ways – by buying it (like a normal currency exchange), by selling a product for Bitcoins (like a shop does with Euros), or by “mining” it – getting your computer to run millions of calculations to “earn” a Bitcoin.

All three methods are growing targets for cybercriminals.

How criminals exploit computers for Bitcoins

According to a recent study by security firm there are at least 12,000 computers infected with some kind of Bitcoin-related malware. The worst effected area is the Asia Pacific region, with Japan, Australian, India and Taiwan making up four of the six most infected countries in the world.

Bitcoin malware tends to attack in two ways – either stealing information concerning users’ Bitcoin accounts, or forcing systems to participate in Bitcoin mining without informing the user.

The first type – information stealing – is no different from most of the malware that already exists which tries to steal your banking information. It simply logs when you enter details related to Bitcoin, and sends this information back to the criminal behind the scheme.

This could be considered the worse of the two types, as if you fall victim to it, you’re going to lose your money. However, it only affects people who buy Bitcoins – which means most of us will be immune.

The other type – mining malware – works by instructing your computer to run a program as quickly as it can in an attempt to “mine” a Bitcoin. A successfully mined Bitcoin can be worth up to a $1000, so criminals write software that distributes the effort of “mining” over lots of computers to speed up the process.

While it might take a single computer a few months to mine a Bitcoin, it will take 10,000 computers no time at all.

In one notable case, a programmer for an eSports application included his own Bitcoin mining malware into a piece of software downloaded by over 14,000 users. It took two weeks for the malware to be discovered, earning the rogue developer $3,713 in mined coins.

The problem for users infected with mining malware is that it will cause your computer to run slower, and could cause it to crash more often. It also means your computer will be working at its maximum capacity all of the time, which will age components in your system and cause the battery life of your laptop to drop significantly.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Security firms are well aware of these trends, and therefore if you’re sensible online and keep your anti-virus up-to-date, you will be less likely to success from any of these issues.

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