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Australian sites compromised by malware that forces visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency

15 February 2018, 07:47 | Gina Pena

Government websites fall prey to cryptocurrency mining hijack

Australian sites among thousands hacked to include mining script

A vulnerability associated with the third-party web browser plugin Browsealoud allowed hackers to put the cryptomining code into the source code for the affected websites, according to a United Kingdom -based cybersecurity researcher.

"We would like to reassure our website users that no council data or information has been accessed or compromised during this worldwide cyberattack", he said.

Among those affected are the UK Student Loans Company (SLC), National Health Service (NHS) Scotland, and the Queensland government portal in Australia.

"This is not a particularly new attack and we've known for a long time that CDNs or other hosted assets are a prime target to compromise a single target and then infect potentially many thousands of websites. Someone just messaged me to say their local government website in Australia is using the software as well".

Texthelp, the company which makes the plug-in, confirmed that the product was affected for four hours by malicious code created to generate cryptocurrency.

After a friend's anti-virus program set out an alert on the site of the UK Information Commissioner's Office, Helme found the malicious script and traced it back to its source: Browsealoud.

"At a high-level mining is simply using system resources to solve large mathematical calculations which result in some amount of cryptocurrency being awarded to the solvers", Cisco researchers wrote in a research note.

It's believed that over 5,000 websites have been affected by the malware.

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Hackers inserted a script called Coinhive, the makers of Browsealoud, Texthelp, has confirmed.

The sites were serving the code for at least a few hours on Sunday until Texthelp Ltd., the company behind the plugin, disabled the cryptomining code.

The code adds a script to web pages that uses a computer's processing power to mine cryptocurrency when people browse the site.

Among the Australian sites affected were the Queensland Government's main legislation site - legislation.qld.gov.au - along with Canberra's defence.gov.au and sites belonging to the Victorian Parliament and South Australia's City of Unley. "This was a criminal act".

"A security review will be conducted by an independent security consultancy", said Martin McKay, Texthelp's data security officer.

A spokesperson from the NCSC said it is "examining data involving incidents of malware being used to illegally mine cryptocurrency".

It said that there are no indications at this stage that members of the public are at risk.

"The affected services have been taken offline, largely mitigating the issue".

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