Australian Government Websites Were Being Hijacked To Mine For Cryptocurrency

15 February, 2018, 07:48 | Author: Marjorie Miles
  • The code in purple is malicioius. Pic Scott Helme

Security researcher Scott Helme said more than 4,000 websites, including many government ones, were affected.

He said Browsealoud would remain offline for the next two days to allow the company to communicate the issue with its customers.

Government websites in the US, UK and Australia have been serving visitors cryptomining malware after a third-party service was compromised.

Security consultant Scott Helme discovered the compromised software on sites including that of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, as well as thousands of other websites in the USA and Ireland.

"This type of attack isn't new - but this is the biggest I've seen".

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The company's chief technology officer, Martin McKay, said in a statement that automatic detection software quickly detected the hack and had taken it down within four hours.

Australian government websites using the same plugin were also compromised. What all the affected sites have in common is that they use an accessibility plugin called Browsealoud - which ordinarily facilitates easy speech, reading and translation tools.

On February 11, 2018, thousands of websites became infected with malware created to hijack browsers and make them mine cryptocurrencies while remaining undetected by users. Security researchers are now advising websites to take some action, especially government websites like the ICO.

This is far from being the first time major sites have been used to covertly mine for cryptocurrency using visitors' CPU time.

BrowseAloud operator Texthelp quickly took down the website on Sunday after receiving Helme's alert.

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The makers of Browsealoud, Texthelp, confirmed that hackers inserted a script known as Coinhive into their software.

The script uses a victim's processor to generate the cryptocurrency-a task that involves solving complicated mathematical problems in order to process transactions and release additional currency-which is collected by the attackers. They included the Victoria parliament, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the Queensland ombudsman, the Queensland Community Legal Centre, and the Queensland legislation website.

"Texthelp can report that no customer data has been accessed or lost".

It's not known who was behind the scheme and whether the plugin, which is produced by the company Texthelp, was compromised by someone external or a company insider who decided to make a quick profit. Notably, though, they said that "there is nothing to suggest that members of the public are at risk" at this stage.

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