What is shadow mining and why is it a security threat?

The majority of organizations are overlooking the threat of shadow mining, with 65 percent of organizations unfamiliar with the term and more than half (57 percent) unfamiliar with the wider-but-related threat of cryptojacking.

what is shadow mining

Cryptojacking is an external threat that occurs when a hacker compromises a privileged user to covertly ‘mine’ cryptocurrencies using an organization’s IT resources.

Yet, shadow mining – a form of shadow IT – occurs when a malicious insider compromises their organization’s computing resources to illicitly mine cryptocurrencies. Shadow IT refers to any surreptitious or unauthorized use of IT infrastructure by an employee.

To be successful and remain undetected, shadow mining depends on deliberately configuring security systems to function incorrectly. This makes an organization less secure, introduces software that consumes additional resources, increases the attack surface, and makes affected computers less reliable.

Out of 150 cybersecurity professionals surveyed by Exabeam in March 2019 at the Cloud and Cybersecurity Expo 2019 in London, almost half (47 percent) are not confident they have the security policies and tools in place to detect and prevent illicit cryptocurrency mining activity occurring on their organization’s network infrastructure.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • 42 percent of respondents believe the biggest IT threats come from outside their organization, whereas just 22 percent view the insider threat of shadow mining as significant
  • Only 43 percent of respondents are familiar with the threat of cryptojacking to their organization, falling to just 35 percent for shadow mining
  • Six percent of those surveyed were clear they cannot detect or prevent illicit cryptocurrency mining activity occurring on their network, with 13 percent not at all confident they can

The study also highlighted a lack of awareness for cryptojacking and shadow mining compared to other common cybersecurity threats. Ransomware (40 percent) and BYOD threats (28 percent) were cited as the two most common IT security challenges facing organizations. Shadow mining (10 percent) and cryptojacking (9 percent) were rarely cited.

“It is eye-opening to learn that so many professionals still see their biggest IT threats coming from outside of their organizations,” said Barry Shteiman, VP, Research and Innovation at Exabeam. “Given the rise of cryptocurrencies, IT teams need to realize that shadow mining is a significant threat and should be given more consideration.”

The risk for many organizations is real. Shadow mining can be lucrative and – with vast resources available in online forums and how-to guides – relatively easy to initiate. Equipped with a basic understanding of cryptocurrencies, a system administrator needs very little additional expertise to deploy miners throughout their company.

“The results of the survey suggest that many organizations should be looking at technologies that monitor who is on their network, and what they are doing,” Shteiman continued. “This is one the most effective ways of mitigating both internal and external security threats like shadow mining and cryptojacking.”