There are numerous ways to fall victim to hacking. Most often, the association of data theft or “destructive tendencies” come to mind when contemplating hacking, but not all “hacks” are carried out with damaging intent.

Recent cybersecurity findings at the University of Edinburgh, “bwHPC” and Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilian’s University have highlighted that each location has fallen victim to cybercrime, but not the site crippling data destructive kind. The common denominator at these sites is that they host supercomputers. Entire rooms filled with computing hardware that when combined produce immense computing power to number crunch immense amounts of data. This makes the sites a prime target for exploiting usage of cryptocurrency mining.

Crypto mining requires considerable processing power, hobbyists rely on “jerry-rigged” graphical processing units (graphics cards) often strewn together in sheds amidst DIY wooden framing with a separate electrical mains feed taking tens of thousands of pounds to set up, requiring close and accurate monitoring of cooling and electrical consumption to ensure the site turns a profit against their running costs of acquiring the parts and powering them.

This malware injection (hack) removes the requirement of high-end hardware for hackers. Why pay all that money to set up your mining site when there are well-maintained supercomputers someone else is paying for?

The frustration from these findings is that the supercomputers were being legitimately farmed out to scientists to further COVID-19 studies and research. Malware found at these sites will have been taking away processing capabilities, hampering the supercomputers ability to work under its intended purpose, the cure for COVID-19. It has not yet been determined whether any intent was present to steal or disrupt this research.

This same hack approach is very common when downscaled and applied to the SME and even domestic market. Viruses in the form of Malware are often sat hidden in your devices processor queue, taking up a small percentage of computing power to not get recognised, but when this concept is extrapolated across potentially thousands of infected devices, a small chunk of unnoticed borrowed processing power soon adds up for the hackers, earning them a pretty penny in the crypto mining world at zero cost.

Make sure your Antivirus is fully patched and up to date, don’t rely on built-in or free cybersecurity products and if you’re still in any doubt, consult your IT provider.