Bitcoin-mining hackers hit government websites
Visiting public body domains could turn your computer into a cryptocurrency miner
Thousands of government websites have been hit by a cryptocurrency-mining hack, forcing them to run scripts that make visitors use their computer power to mine cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum and others.
These aren't insignificant sites either. In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office and the Student Loan Company have both been affected, with the General Medical Council and NHS Inform also found running the script. In the US, the Indiana Government and the US courts system were also discovered to be running the crypto jacking script.
The mining script comes from Coinhive, a company that claims its product can help you "monetise your site visitors" by sucking their CPU power and using it to mine cryptocurrencies. It's the same type of script found to be running in YouTube adverts earlier this year, as well as the likes of video streaming sites and torrent website The Pirate Bay.
Coinhive's script was able to run across all of these sites thanks to a piece of software called BrowseAloud. Embedded in all of the affected sites, TextHelp's BrowseAloud software offers accessibility services to those with visual or literacy impairments who are browsing the web. Sometime on Sunday, a third-party made modifications to BrowseAloud by adding the Coinhive mining software.
Since news of the breach came to light TextHelp has withdrawn BrowseAloud while it resolves the problem.
The crypto-jacking script isn't particularly malicious. While it may utilise your computer's CPU power - and therefore slow your computer down - it won't capture sensitive information you may have entered on any of the government sites you've visited.
A spokesperson for the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said: "NCSC technical experts are examining data involving incidents of malware being used to illegally mine cryptocurrency.
"The affected service has been taken offline, largely mitigating the issue. Government websites continue to operate securely. At this stage there is nothing to suggest that members of the public are at risk."
If you're worried about becoming a victim of crypto jacking, you can install a content blocker that'll scramble the script and flag the plugin. No Coin for Firefox, Chrome and Opera are your best bet. Interestingly, Opera comes with crypto jacking protections embedded into both its mobile and desktop iterations.
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