December 2018 McAfee Labs threat report shows sharp increase in malware targeting IoT devices, which can then be used for cryptomining exploits
IoT malware threats have increased from just over 5,000 in Q4 2016 to over 45,000 incidents detected in Q3 2018. IoT threats may target any kind of connected hardware including routers, smart devices, webcams and more, and according to McAfee, are generally directed toward Linux-based systems.
IoT devices have been used in the past by malicious actors in DDoS attacks, such as the massive 2016 Mirai malware attack that affected millions of users of applications including Twitter, Spotify, PayPal. However due to their low processing capabilities, they have largely been discounted as a potential source of cryptomining power.
However, IoT devices are more easily compromised than more powerful devices – and hackers are taking advantage of volume to create the computing power required for effective cryptomining.
In 2018, there were 23.14 billion IoT devices in use worldwide – and that number is expected to more than triple to 75.44 billion in 2025.
According to cybersecurity firm Avast, 15,000 hacked IoT devices could generate $1,000 in cryptocurrency over the course of four days. While this may appear to be a large effort for a relatively small gain, the enormous number of IoT connected devices worldwide coupled with their comparatively low security standards make them an attractive target for cryptomining exploits.
McAfee noted that with an IoT hack “due to the lack of proper security controls, cybercriminals can benefit from volume over CPU speed. If they can control thousands of devices that mine for a long time, they can still make money.”
McAfee quoted several security researchers that have discovered cryptominer malware on different IoT devices, including Kodi open-source media players and unpatched MikroTik routers.
The McAfee findings reinforce a cryptomining IoT exploit discovered by TrendMicro last year, including DroidMiner and a monero miner for routers, leading to the conclusion that the use of IoT for cryptomining is on the rise.
Given the growing number of devices in use globally, the use of connected devices for mining cryptocurrency is expected to grow into a significant security issue for IoT devices.