Government websites becomes victims of cryptocurrency mining hijack

Thousands of websites, including those belonging to NHS services, the Student Loans Company and several English councils, have been infected by malware that forces visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency while using the site. A full investigation is now underway, and Martin McKay, CTO and Data Security Officer at the company said: "In light of other recent cyber attacks all over the world, we have been preparing for such an incident for the a year ago and our data security action plan was actioned straight away". The Queensland government's legislation website, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the Victorian Parliament were reportedly affected.

An IT security consultant, Scott Helme, raised the alarm after his friend received an alert from his anti-virus software after visiting a government website.

In a report last month, cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike highlighted the rise of cryptocurrency mining, a relatively new flavor of attack.

Their aim is thought to be to take control of unsuspecting users' machines and use them to mine Monero, a crypto-currency and rival to Bitcoin. It inserts the code for Coinhive's Monero miner into it, meaning sites using the plugin were serving up the mining code without realizing it.

Many other organisations' websites were also affected, from the United States courts website to the UK Financial Ombudsman Service.

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Government websites in other countries were also affected, Helme noted.

A spokesperson from the NCSC said it is "examining data involving incidents of malware being used to illegally mine cryptocurrency".

This compromise has only impacted Browsealoud, no other Texthelp products have been affected.

"This is not a particularly new attack and we've known for a long time that CDNs or other hosted assets are a prime target to compromise a single target and then infect potentially many thousands of websites". Texthelp responded by taking down the Browsealoud server - and thus immediately removing the JavaScript mining code from the affected sites, though also disabling the text-to-speech functionality - and has issued a statement confirming the attack. But security researchers at Sophos noted that the rogue script that was injected into the Browsealoud server includes code that tries to limit the amount of processing power that the cryptomining will steal. Notably, though, they said that "there is nothing to suggest that members of the public are at risk" at this stage. The company who makes the plug-in, Texthelp, thereafter confirmed the plug-in was hit for four hours by code created to generate cryptocurrency.