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Latest in cybercrime: Your infected computer enslaved to earn digital currency

Tim Johnson, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- When unauthorized software found its way onto the network of a small Tennessee hospital, the culprits didn't ask for ransom. They didn't steal records. What they did was silently harness computing power for a money-making task.

The task was to "mine" digital currency, and the culprits did it by yoking together a quiet army of infected computers to generate a stream of money.

It is a trend that coincides with the dizzying trajectory of many digital currencies, which skyrocketed in 2017, dipped early this year and recovered in the past several days.

Cybersecurity experts call it "cryptojacking" -- hijacking computers to produce digital currency, like Bitcoin, Litecoin and Monero that have been in the news.

Infected networks or computers perform double duty, conducting normal functions (perhaps a bit more slowly) while also obeying remote commands to do calculations that generate digital currency for the criminals, or wrongdoers, who may be company insiders.

Up to 24,000 patients of the Decatur County General Hospital in Parsons, Tennessee, were notified in a Jan. 24 letter from the hospital that a server had been compromised, the HIPAA Journal reported Thursday.

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"The unauthorized software was installed to generate digital currency, more commonly known as 'cryptocurrency,' " the hospital told patients, adding that it had no indication that intruders sought patient data like Social Security numbers or clinical and insurance information.

An Israeli firm, Radiflow, reported this week that a large European wastewater site had five of its servers infected by "cryptojacking" malware.

Radiflow's chief executive, Ilan Barda, said in a telephone interview that regulators asked him not to identify the country where the infection occurred although he called it "quite a modern one."

"Unfortunately, it's spreading quite widely," Barda said of the infection. "There are reports now of Android devices being infected and reports of home devices and enterprise devices (being infected)."

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