Vulnerable internet-connected devices from security cameras to smartphones can be hijacked by hackers and turned into tools to mine cryptocurrencies, a cybersecurity company has demonstrated.
Avast, which is based in the Czech Republic, ran a demonstration on Wednesday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, which had a number of devices running on a network powering a cryptocurrency mining software.
Mining is the process of verifying transactions on a cryptocurrency network by solving complex mathematical problems with high-powered computers. Bitcoin is very difficult to mine without having a super computer, but another cryptocurrency called monero can be done with a network of internet-connected devices.
Avast couldn't get 15,000 devices onto its hacked network, but based on the tests it did run, it said that it would need that number of internet-connected gadgets to mine $1,000 of cryptocurrency in four days.
A theoretical real-world attack would begin with hackers taking over a network of devices. They would use the combined computing power of those devices to then mine some monero.
While the $1,000 might not sound like a lot of profit, the potential is huge because in 2020, there will be over 20 billion internet-connected devices, according to a forecast by research firm Gartner, meaning the number of devices that could be attacked would be much higher. The was an estimated 8.4 billion of these devices in 2017.
"This ubiquity of devices combined with the fact they are so easy to attack makes them an attractive target," Ondrej Vlcek, the chief technology officer at Avast, told CNBC Wednesday.
Both crypto-mining and hacking of so-called internet of things devices are two rising trends. In 2016, an attack on a connected device was behind a hack that wiped out large swathes of internet access for many Americans. And North Korean government-backed hackers have been running campaigns aimed at hacking devices to mine monero.
Monero has become a favorite cryptocurrency for bad actors as it claims to be one of the most anonymous digital coins available.