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Central Asian countries among the most vulnerable to attacks from cryptocurrency hackers

Global cryptojackers are using malware to take over vulnerable computers without permission

Last week Comparitech, a UK-based consumer website that provides reviews and research about technology services, published its annual report on the most and least cyber secure countries around the world. The study found that four Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are among the 15 least secure, with Tajikistan ranking as the worst.

The same four countries, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also topped the list of those with the highest percentage of attacks from cryptominers. 

Cryptocurrency mining is an energy intensive operation which uses the processing power of computers to create and verify cryptocurrencies. The so-called “cryptojackers” typically use software to take over one or more vulnerable computers and use their resources to mine cryptocurrency without permission. Attackers can mine cryptocurrencies this way without paying for electricity or hardware.

Cryptojacking can affect computers in a number of ways. “If your device is infected with a crypto miner, it’s going to slow down your computer. It’s going to slow down your internet speed and it also is usually indicative of some other security problem,” said Paul Bischoff, a consumer privacy expert and editor at Comparitech. 

Central Asian countries have become attractive locations for cryptocurrency mining farms because of extremely low electricity prices. At the same time, law enforcement agencies have reportedly punished those found guilty of breaking local laws on cryptocurrency trading

Last month, two men were detained for selling Bitcoin in Uzbekistan, where purchasing cryptocurrency is prohibited. Authorities in Tajikistan in February arrested four people for hijacking 200 computers. 

Bischoff told me that computers in Central Asian countries might be vulnerable to cryptojacking because of an abundance of malware. “The reason that these tend to have a really high prevalence in some of these countries is because the devices that are being sold in those countries may not come with a reputable app store like Google Play.” 

Comparitech’s report drew on research analyzing cybersecurity levels in 60 countries according to 15 criteria, including mobile malware and ransomware. 

With low electricity rates, Kazakhstan has become a popular site for cryptocurrency mining farms. Last year, the country passed a number of legal amendments to boost the regulation and taxation of cryptocurrency mining and diversify from its oil-dominated economy.

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