Massive Coinhive Cryptojacking Campaign Infects 170,000 MikroTik Routers


Security researchers have unearthed a massive cryptojacking campaign that targets and infects MikroTik routers with a copy of the Coinhive in-browser cryptocurrency mining script.

The campaign appears to have gotten off the ground this week and was, in its first stages, mainly active in Brazil, but later started targeting MikroTik routers all over the world.

The first to spot the attacks was a Brazilian researcher who goes by the name of MalwareHunterBR on Twitter, but as the campaign got bigger and bigger by infecting more and more routers, it also got the attention of Simon Kenin, a security researcher with Trustwave’s SpiderLabs division.

In a report Trustwave shared with Bleeping Computer, Kenin says that the hacker (or hackers) behind this campaign appear to have compromised around 72,000 MikroTik routers in Brazil during the first stages of their attack.

Shodan search of infected routers

Kenin says the attacker uses a zero-day in the Winbox component of MikroTik routers that was discovered in April. MikroTik patched the zero-day in less than a day, back in April, but this didn’t necessarily mean that router owners applied the required patch.

Instead, the former zero-day was dissected by security researchers, and public proof-of-concept (PoC) code has appeared in several places on GitHub [1, 2].

Hacker using April 2018 MikroTik zero-day

According to Kenin, the attacker used one of those PoCs to alter traffic passing through the MikroTik router and inject a copy of the Coinhive library inside all the pages served through the router.

We know it’s only one threat actor exploiting this flaw because the attacker used only one Coinhive key for all the Coinhive injections he performed during the past week.

Furthermore, Kenin says that he also identified some cases where non-MikroTik users were also impacted. He says this was happening because some Brazilian ISPs were using MikroTik routers for their main network, and hence the attacker managed to inject the malicious Coinhive code in a massive amount of web traffic.

In addition, Kenin says that because of the way the attack was performed, the injection worked both ways, and not necessarily only for traffic going to the user. For example, if a website was hosted on a local network behind an affected MikroTik router, traffic to that website would also be injected with the Coinhive library.

Hacker became more careful, shrunk operation

But injecting Coinhive in so much traffic is very noisy and tends to annoy users, which could lead to users and ISPs investigating the source of the problem, such as it happened with this user on Reddit.

The attacker also appears to have understood this issue, and Kenin says that in recent attacks, the hacker switched tactics and only injected the Coinhive script in error pages returned by the routers.

But shrinking his attack surface doesn’t look to be a downgrade for the attacker. The Trustwave researcher says that in recent days he’s seen the attack spreading outside Brazil, and has now more than doubled the initial numbers, having infected over 170,000 MikroTik routers.

“Let me emphasize how bad this attack is,” Kenin says. “There are hundreds of thousands of these devices around the globe, in use by ISPs and different organizations and businesses, each device serves at least tens if not hundreds of users daily.”

“The attacker wisely thought that instead of infecting small sites with few visitors, or finding sophisticated ways to run malware on end user computers, they would go straight to the source; carrier-grade router devices,” he added.

“Even if this attack only works on pages that return errors, we’re still talking about potentially millions of daily pages for the attacker.”

The attack has room to grow

A query on the Shodan IoT search engine reveals that there are over 1.7 million MikroTik routers available online.

Bleeping Computer has reached out to the Coinhive team and inquired if they’ve taken down this site key, and how much Monero the attacker mined through his scheme.

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