Attacks on ISP Networks allows to steal $83,000 from Bitcoin Mining pools

Pierluigi Paganini August 10, 2014

Researchers at Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit discovered a theft of Bitcoin made hijacking networks of at least 19 Internet service providers.

With the rise of Bitcon value has increased the interest of cybercrime, since now we have read of botnet able to mine virtual currency with victim’s resources and malicious codes able to steal Bitcoin wallets from infected machines, now hackers seems have changed tactic. Researchers at Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit (CTU) have discovered that bad actors have stolen Bitcoin directly from mining, an operation that allowed them to generate nearly $83,000 in digital cash in more than four months by gaining access to a Canadian Internet provider.

Bitcoin are created through ‘mining’ activities which consist in the complex calculations to create a ‘block’ with a hash value satisfying certain properties. In a mining pool, clients connect to the pool to receive instructions and share results related to the calculations executed.

bitcoin bgp theft

The researchers uncovered the theft of Bitcoin made with the use of bogus Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) broadcasts to hijack networks of at least 19 Internet service providers, including Amazon and other hosting services like DigitalOcean and OVH.
Bad actors also stole mining power to release other virtual currencies including Dogecoin and WorldCoin, the team of experts discovered that another miner pool has lost nearly 8,000 Dogecoins (1Dogecoin = $1.53).

In total, CTU researchers documented 51 compromised networks from 19 different Internet service providers (ISPs),” The hijacker redirected cryptocurrency miners’ connections to a hijacker-controlled mining pool and collected the miners’ profit, earning an estimated $83,000 in slightly more than four months.” is reported in the official post from Dell.

The attack is very ingenious, the hackers targeted a collection of Bitcoin mining pools and by broadcasting malicious routes through BGP have redirected a portion of online traffic from legitimate currency-mining servers on one network to bogus servers on another network that masqueraded as the genuine one.
Bitcoin theft 2
The researchers started investigation on March 22th, 2014, when a user triggered an alert on the forum indicating that suspicious activity was occurring on mining systems connected to the mining pool.
Many users of the forum noticed that mining systems mysteriously redirected to an unknown IP address that answered with the Stratum protocol,  a JSON-based mining protocol that does implement an authentication feature.
The IP address continued to instruct miners continued to conduct elaboration necessary for the mining process but no longer sent block rewards for their mining efforts.

The threat actor hijacked the mining pool, so many cryptocurrencies were impacted,”  “The protocols make it impossible to identify exactly which ones, but CTU researchers have mapped activity to certain addresses.” is explained in the blog post.

The researchers provided the BGP evidence to the upstream ISP closest to the origin of the malicious activity.

“The malicious BGP announcements stopped three days later and have not resumed as of this publication. However, the ISP did not disclose details about the source of the malicious changes to the router’s configuration.”

Not just Bitcoins, the hacker also stole mining power to release other cryptocurrencies, such as Dogecoin, HoboNickels and WorldCoin. According to the researchers, a small-time miner lost as many as 8,000 Dogecoins, which is equivalent to $1.53 in today’s real-world dollars, as a result of the hack.
The team traced the attack to an internet service provider (ISP) in Canada, which was not disclosed.

“Unlike network routing protocols that can automatically initiate a connection from one network, both ends of BGP-connected networks (also known as a ‘peers’) must be manually configured to communicate,” the researchers write. “This requirement ensures malicious networks cannot hijack traffic without human intervention from a legitimate network.

In time I’m writing it is not clear how the attacker obtained the access to the ISP’s infrastructure to introduce malicious route to hijack victims’ mining power to their own mining pool.

The researchers suggest:

  • from IPS perspective to adopt the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) service, which leverages the power of encryption to ensure that IP prefixes belonging to an ISP can only originate from specified ASNs.
  • from a cryptocurrency perspective, to implement Secure Socket Layer (SSL) for their pool and also.
Pierluigi Paganini
(Security Affairs –  Bitcoin, cybercrime)  

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