UK ‘cryptojacking’ attacks surge 1,200% as bitcoin value rise sees illegal miners taking over PCs

Incidents of cryptojacking – the process of hacking bitcoins and other digital currencies – have surged in the UK in recent months by as much as 1,200 per cent, according to one cybersecurity giant.

Symantec Threat Intelligence observed a dramatic up-tick in attacks on lucrative cryptocurrency holdings between October and January.

The findings coincide with a spike in interest in bitcoin, which was valued at an all-time high of $19,850 (£14,214) in mid-December.

Cryptojacking sees hackers commandeering other people’s personal computers for use in bitcoin mining, sometimes loading victims’ devices with unwanted software but often preferring to go undetected.

The practice was once dependant on installing malware on the target’s computer but can now be carried out in-browser by hacking a web page’s JavaScript.

The UK was ranked fourth in Symantec’s study of cyberjacking victims by nation, behind the US, Japan and France but ahead of Germany, meaning Britain accounted for 4 per cent of the 5m attacks seen around the world over the four-month period.

One of the most prominent recent hacks occurred earlier this month when pirates manipulated Browsealoud, a search engine plug-in to help the blind or partially-sighted, for use in mining the monero cryptocurrency.

The websites of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office and Student Loans Company were both hit in the attack.

This week, US electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla, owned by Elon Musk, was reportedly the target of a cryptojacking attack, according to cyber monitoring firm Redlock, although the company has not revealed which of the world’s 1,300 cryptocurrencies was mined or for how long.

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