Study: Bitcoin Wallet Attacks Rose Sharply in 2013

NEWS
Stan Higgins
Apr 10, 2014 at 19:50 UTC  |  Updated  Apr 11, 2014 at 13:19 UTC

There were nearly 6 million detections of malware capable of stealing data from bitcoin wallets in 2013, according to a new report released by cybersecurity firm Kapersky Labs.

Entitled "Financial Cyberthreats in 2013", Kapersky's report looked more broadly at a range of cyberattacks - from phishing to mobile malware, but put a special emphasis on examining how digital currency wallet users are being targeted by criminals online.

Perhaps most notably, Kapersky found that 1 million wallet owners fell victim to a malware attack in 2013, up from less than 600,000 in 2012. Attacks on digital currency wallets constituted roughly 20% of all attacks that involved financial malware last year.

Read the report:

"Among all finance-related malware, tools associated with bitcoin demonstrated the most dynamic development."

The full, 35-page report provided additional information on malware that targets wallet data, as well as programs that secretly upload mining software to the victim's computer.

The report draws on information collected from Kapersky's global security infrastructure.

Attack figures rise with bitcoin's price

The amount of detections for wallet-targeting malware programs rose significantly in 2013 compared to 2012 levels, when according to Kapersky, less than 2 million detections were registered. This figure includes all observed attacks, including those that were not successful.

Kapersky reported a more modest increase in the amount of malware attacks that uploaded mining software to affected computers, rising from roughly 500,000 in 2012 to more than 2 million in 2013.

Almost 800,000 users encountered mining malware attack in 2013, compared to less than 200,000 the year before. Overall, mining malware attempts accounted for 8.9% of all detections.

The report noted that beginning in October 2013, the number of detected mining malware attacks fell while the number of wallet-targeting programs started to climb. It said:

"This could be the result of the above-mentioned idiosyncrasy of the Bitcoin system, where the more 'coins' that are generated, the more difficult it is to generate new ones. This could also drive malicious users to focus on searching for and stealing bitcoin wallets holding already-generated cryptocurrency."

Attacks on wallets began to rise sharply in September 2012, according to the data. During 2013, the number of attacks peaked in August 2013, with additional periods of heightened activity during April and November-December of that year.

This finding suggests that the number of attacks increased with the price of bitcoin, as prices hit new highs during both these periods.

Malware's growing threat

Malware that targets both wallets and home computers used by miners poses an increasingly serious threat to the digital currency ecosystem.

Earlier this year, Dell SecureWorks identified 146 types of bitcoin malware currenty circulating on the internet. Due to the risk, some have turned to paper wallets as a way to securely store their bitcoins.

Two apps previously available on Google Play were identified by a cybersecurity team which turned affected Android devices into litecoin and dogecoin miners. Further, in late March, Symantec noted an increase in the number of mining malware attacks which targeted Linux-based computers.

Image credit: Computer virus via Shutterstock

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