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How hackers use unsuspecting companies’ websites to help ‘mine’ for online currency

VANCOUVER—Anyone casually surfing the internet at home can be deployed as an unwittingly productive member of a hacker’s workforce, a practice known as “cryptojacking” that is on the rise.

Internet sleuths have discovered malicious code on the websites of several major companies — including Canada’s Loblaw Companies Ltd. — left by cryptojackers looking to break into computers and commandeer their processing power for cryptocurrency mining.

Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are digital “coins” created by groups of computers — known as miners — that work together to solve mathematical puzzles that verify transactions. The more puzzles they solve, the more currency they earn. The exercise is hugely taxing on a computer’s processing power and the electricity it requires is expensive.

By surreptitiously adding JavaScript code to a website, the central processing unit on a visitor’s computer is employed to join the effort to mine a digital currency.

“It basically just hogs your CPU,” said Konstantin Beznosov, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s electrical and computer engineering department. Computers that have been cryptojacked can become unresponsive or slow down significantly. The practice can also result in higher electricity bills.

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