The global outbreak in malicious cryptocurrency mining that unfolded in 2018 saw the number of attacks increase by more than 83%, with over 5-million users attacked online in the first three quarters of the year, compared to 2,7-million over the same period in 2017.

The major driver behind the crypto gold rush was the installation and use of unlicensed software and content, according to Kaspersky Lab.

In 2018, malicious cryptocurrency mining prevailed over the main threat of the last few years: ransomware. The number of internet users attacked by malicious cryptocurrency mining software increased steadily during the first half of the year, peaking in March, with around 1,2-million users a month coming under attack.

Kaspersky Lab experts have investigated the economic background of the sudden onset of crypto-mining fever to discover what drove the global distribution of this threat. They analysed the regulatory landscape, electricity prices in the top 10 countries targeted by crypto miners and main infection vectors for the popular malware families.

The analysis shows that neither cryptocurrency legislation nor the cost of power has a significant impact on the spread of malicious mining malware. However, the investigation of malware families reveals that they mainly infected devices by duping users into installing pirated software and unlicensed content.

“Our analysis of the economic background of malicious crypto mining and the reasons for its widespread presence in certain regions revealed a clear correlation: the easier it is to distribute unlicensed software; the more incidents of malicious crypto miner activity were detected. In short, an activity not generally perceived as dangerous: the downloading and installation of dubious software, underpins what is arguably the biggest cyberthreat story of the year – malicious crypto mining,” notes Evgeny Lopatin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other key findings from the report include:

* The total number of users who encountered miners rose by more than 83% from 2 726 491 in 2017 to 5,001,414 in 2018;

* The share of miners detected, from the overall number of threats detected also grew, from 5% in 2017 to 8% in 2018;

* The share of miners detected, from the overall risk tool detections is also on the rise – from 9% in 2017 to 17% in 2018; and

* The total number of users who encountered mobile miners also grew, increasing by over five times from 1 986 in 2017 to 10 242 in 2018.