Cryptomining Bitcoin using cryptojacking

Wondering why your computer is acting extremely slow and has high disk usage? You could be the victim of cryptojacking, meaning a hacker is stealing your device’s resources.

Even if you have no interest in cryptocurrency, a cybercriminal can inject malicious code to sneak onto your PC and run it in the background without you noticing. By hijacking your processing power, your device transforms into a mini crypto mining machine to generate a profit for cybercriminals.

Follow this guide to learn all you need to know about cryptojacking and how to protect yourself from it so you can rightfully keep your PC’s processing power.

What is cryptojacking?

Cryptojacking is a cybercrime where someone secretly uses another person’s device to mine cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, and mining it involves solving complex mathematical puzzles with a computer. These puzzles are used to validate transactions and create new cryptocurrency.

Hackers use cryptojacking to get the stolen computing power without paying for it themselves. This can be done in a few ways:

  • Infecting websites or ads: By visiting a compromised website or clicking on a malicious ad, you could unknowingly download code that starts mining cryptocurrency in the background on your device.
  • Malicious apps: Cryptojacking scripts can be hidden in fake or compromised apps, so when you install them, the script starts mining.
  • Phishing emails: Emails that trick you into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment could also install cryptojacking software.
Hooded man crypto mining by using cryptojacking

So, how does it affect you? The main impact of cryptojacking is on the performance of your device. Mining cryptocurrency uses a lot of processing power and memory, so you might notice your device running slower, fans running more often, and battery draining faster.

While it generally doesn’t harm you, your online information, or your bank account, it still has a massive impact on individuals, businesses, and more. Think of it as someone stealing your home’s electricity without you noticing; it means certain electronics in your house won’t work how they should.

Similarly, your device will struggle to do simple tasks like browsing the web, opening apps, streaming content, and more. In fact, sometimes the extra processing power of crypto mining translates to increased electricity consumption, therefore, a higher electricity bill.

Examples of cryptojacking

Since the cryptocurrency boom, threat actors have come up with ways to take over machines and steal their processing power to mine Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more.

In 2018, a cryptojacking script was injected into ads displayed on YouTube through Google’s DoubleClick platform. Millions of unsuspecting viewers unknowingly became temporary miners for the attackers. Using ads to promote malicious crypto scams continues, as Twitter, now known as X, is seeing a rapid growth of malicious cryptocurrency ads being promoted to users.

Even government websites aren’t immune. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense and several UK government websites were found to be hosting cryptojacking scripts, potentially compromising sensitive data and resources. What’s worse, in 2018, hackers infiltrated the supercomputer at a Russian nuclear facility and used it to mine cryptocurrency. This attack highlights the potential dangers of cryptojacking targeting critical infrastructure.

Lastly, cryptojacking scripts can also be hidden within seemingly harmless mobile apps. In 2019, eight apps in the Microsoft Store were found to be secretly mining cryptocurrency using users’ devices.

Symptoms of cryptojacking

There are several ways to find out if your computer or device has fallen victim to cryptojacking:

  • Slowed Performance: Mining cryptocurrency is resource-intensive, so your device will likely experience sluggishness, overheating, and increased fan noise.
  •  Higher Electricity Bills: The extra processing power used for mining translates to increased electricity consumption, potentially impacting your bills.
  •  Reduced Battery Life: On laptops and smartphones, cryptojacking can drain the battery faster than usual.
  •  Security Risks: The malicious code used for cryptojacking can create vulnerabilities on your device, potentially opening the door for other cyberattacks.

How to detect and prevent cryptojacking

As crypto mining involves using your device’s processing power, you can tell if your computer is being used for mining if the disk usage is higher than usual.

Here are several ways to stop any form of cryptojacking:

  1. Remove the process causing high disk usage

    High Disk Usage Task Manager Settings on Windows

    Knowing what app or background process is causing high disk activity will help you solve the problem. Once you identify what’s taking up a significant amount of read/write operation resources, you can quickly stop the process. 

    To do this, you’ll need to open Task Manager. Press CTRL + SHIFT + ESC or right-click on the taskbar and select Task Manager to open the app. 

    Click on the Disk tab to see all running apps and background processes in order of disk usage. 

    If a process is highlighted orange and runs over 1MB/s or 2MB/s, it takes up a lot of disk usage. If you see anything near 100% disk usage, these will contribute to this and need to be stopped. This is especially true if there’s an unfamiliar process running without you realising it. 

    Right-click the app or background process taking up resources and select End task

  2. Disable unnecessary background services

    High Disk Usage Services Settings

    Windows and third-party services use many processes that work in the background. While many of these can be helpful, some can take up a lot of system resources and cause high disk usage, slowing down your PC. 

    One way to lighten the load is to stop apps or background processes you don’t need via Task Manager. An excellent way to find unnecessary programs using disk activity is to head into Start-up apps. Go to Task Manager > Start-up apps in the left-hand sidebar and search for any apps you don’t need running. Then right-click and select Disable

    Other Windows processes can also cause unusually high disk usage, which can be disabled in another way. For example, SuperFetch and Windows Search are known to increase your system load unnecessarily. 

    SuperFetch, or Service Host SuperFetch, analyses system usage patterns and preloads data from apps and programs to make them easier to access. However, it can also cause consistently high data usage. To disable it, click start and type Services and select the app. Scroll down to SysMain and double-click on it. Next to Startup type, click the drop-down menu and select Disabled

    Windows Search lets you search for files on your computer much faster but can also increase the load. If you don’t need it, head into Services and double-click Windows Search. Like before, use the drop-down menu and click Disabled

  3. Defragment and check your hard drive

    High Disk Usage Update Hard Drive Settings

    If there are no problems with system processes affecting disk usage, there could be an issue with the hard drive itself. The good news is this can be fixed with a few simple clicks. 

    You can check for hard disk errors and repair problems through the CHKDSK tool. What’s more, using the same method, you can defragment to optimise your computer’s drive. This will rearrange files on your disk so they are stored more efficiently. 

    Head to File Explorer > This PC > right-click and select Properties on your chosen drive > Tools tab. From here, you can select Check under Error checking and Optimise under Optimise and defragment drive

    If you get a message stating, “Restart your computer to repair file system. You can restart right away or schedule the error fixing on next restart,” follow the instructions to fix the issue. 

    To be safe, make sure you have your hard drive data backed up so you don’t lose any important data. 

  4. Update your software and restart your computer

    Windows PC Update Settings

    Updating your Windows PC software and restarting your computer can often fix unexpected high disk usage problems. However, they can also fend off malicious software. 

    Cybercriminals take advantage of security vulnerabilities on your device. These zero-day vulnerabilities allow threat actors to exploit computer systems until developers mitigate them, which can cause major damage. 

    Updating your system’s software can resolve the issue. A software update often contains security patches that help protect your device, as developers work to protect users from known zero-day attacks and other forms of malware trying to infect your device, especially with unfamiliar processes. 

    You can update your device through its settings. For example, you can update your Windows PC by navigating to Start > Settings > Windows Update > Check for updates. If there are any, download and install the update. 

  5. Change your passwords

    Norton 360 Password Manager

    If you’re experiencing a slow PC with high disk usage and nothing will fix it, chances are your PC has been infected with a virus or malware, and your online accounts and devices are at risk of being compromised.

    To help mitigate potential malware threats or hackers taking control of your accounts, change your passwords and use a strong password to stop suspicious activity. 

    Using password managers such as LastPass or 1Password can help manage all your passwords in one place, create a complex, near-unbreakable master password and encrypt your information. 

    Changing passwords will stop hackers from trying to steal any sensitive information and your online accounts. 

  6. Use antivirus software to detect and stop malware

    Norton 360 Security and Settings

    Using one of the best antivirus software like Norton 360 (from $19.99/year) will keep you safe from any malicious software, which includes malicious scripts used for crypto mining.

    That’s not all; antivirus software can provide extra features like VPNs, dark web monitoring and more. Norton 360 has all these features and extra security tools that can backup your data, prevent online identity theft and stop malware. 

    What’s more, Norton 360 comes with monitoring features to identify all suspicious activity on your device. Select packages also feature cloud storage to help you save hard drive space and a PC booster like Norton Utilities Ultimate to, well, boost PC speeds and stop high disk usage. It will help detect and notify you about any unusual activity and stop it using it’s protection tools. 

    Check out our Norton 360 review and Norton 360 Platinum review to see which antivirus package suits you best.

Use antivirus software to stop cryptojacking

From malicious websites with cryptojacking code to phishing emails or ads waiting to infect your PC, the best antivirus software will stop cryptojacking in its tracks. Many high-standard AV protection offers near-perfect scores when detecting and protecting against malware, meaning even complex malicious software can’t go unnoticed.

Instead of trying to identify the cause of crypto mining on your device, the best antivirus software services do all the legwork for you, as they have security and privacy features to protect your devices and online accounts.

Services such as Avast OneBitdefenderNorton 360 and more have protection tools that block malicious email addresses, links and attachments. To keep safe from threat actors hacking your device to steal its processing power and resources, set yourself up with an antivirus.

Best antivirus software in 2024

1. Norton 360 🥇From $19.99/year
Best overall antivirus of 2023

Norton 360 on Laptop scaled

“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990. 

Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats. 

Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.

If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.

Read our full Norton 360 review

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2. Bitdefender 🥈 From $19.99/year
Best security features and tools

Bitdefender Lead Image scaled

Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.

Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.

It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need. 

Read our full Bitdefender review

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3. Malwarebytes 🥉 From $44.99/year
Best antivirus for Windows PC

Malwarebytes Logo scaled

Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.

Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.

That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement. 

Read our full Malwarebytes review

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4. Avast One 🙌 From $39.99/year
Best antivirus for beginners + free plan available!

Avast One logo on laptop

With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.

Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.

It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.

Read our full Avast One review

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5. AVG👍 From 4.99/month
Best antivirus for + free plan available!

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You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.

AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.

Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.

Read our full AVG Antivirus review

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Darragh Murphy
Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from the mischievous world of online security to washing machines designed for earbuds. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for laptops into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. When he's not checking out the latest devices and all things tech, he can be found swimming laps, watching terrible shark movies, and trying to find time to game.  Previous Editor at Laptop Mag and News Editor at Time Out Dubai, specialising in food culture, nightlife events, gaming, tech and entertainment.

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