Monero (XMR) is a cryptocurrency highly prized for its privacy attributes.
Monero is a cryptocurrency that is created through mining, like bitcoin, but is based on a different core technology called CryptoNote, which was developed in 2013 specifically to anonymize otherwise public transactions on a blockchain.
According to CoinMarketCap, a widely used online data aggregator and reporting service on October 1, 2018, Monero was the 10th largest cryptocurrency as measured by market capitalization. For the previous month, Monero had been the 20th most active cryptocurrency as measured by the dollar value of its total traded volume. CoinMarketCap results for October 1 also show that Monero is traded only on eleven of the 204 exchanges that CoinMarketCap covers, indicating that Monero trading is not widely popular. By mid-December 2020, CoinGecko, another popular online data aggregator and reporting service, reported indicated that Monero, with $2,345,436,950 worth outstanding, was the fifteenth largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization.
Monero claims that transactions in Monero are confidential and untraceable because both senders' public keys and receivers' addresses are encrypted. Not only are such personal details not observable on the public blockchain, but also transaction encryption renders each Monero fungible with any other because the provenance of any one Monero coin cannot be traced.
Because of the effectiveness of its privacy protections, Monero has become a popular method of payment in various dark web markets, including illegal drug markets. When a large number of alt-right activists' Coinbase accounts became suspended for donating bitcoin to white supremecist organizations, many began donating Monero instead.
In 2019, Monero was de-listed from several exchanges, citing concerns over its privacy features being exploited by criminals to launder money. OKEx announced its de-listing in October, and the Estonian exchange BitBay announced its de-listing in November.
Criminal Activity and Law Enforcement
While regulatory and law enforcement officials everywhere are naturally suspicious of the uses for Monero, Japan has taken steps to limit its tradability. After the massive $500 million hacking at Coincheck, the Japanese Financial Services Agency appears to have pressured Coincheck and its new owner Monex not to deal in Monero ostensibly because Monero was used to monetize the hack. In April 2018, at a working group meeting of experts on virtual currency under the auspices of the Financial Services Agency, Monero was specifically mentioned as a highly problematic virtual currency because its anonymity could let it be used for money laundering and other illicit purposes.
Hijacking: North Korean Mining and Salon.com
Because of its anonymity, Monero is favored by rogue miners to co-opt third parties' computing power to mine it, with or without their blessing. This practice is known as cryptojacking. According to a report by the Cyber Threat Alliance in September 2018, the cryptocurrency most commonly mined in these attacks is Monero. On January 8, 2018 AlienVault, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, reported that it had discovered malicious software ("malware") that was being used to mine Monero on third parties' computers and send the newly mined Monero to Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea. The purpose of the hacking seems to have been to raise funds for the North Korean government. A month later, in February 2018, the online American news and entertainment service Salon offered its readers the opportunity to suppress advertisements in exchange for allowing Salon to use customers' computers to mine Monero for Salon's benefit.
May 2018 saw reports from 360 Total Security, another cybersecurity firm, that it had discovered that Monero-mining malware named ‘WinstarNssmMiner’ had been installed on approximately half a million PCs. In June 2018 a cybersecurity firm named Gaurdicore Ltd reported that it had uncovered a widespread hijacking campaign that hacked approximately 40,000 computers, largely to mine Monero. Coinhive, a hijacking program used to mine Monero from the PCs of persons who visit websites where Coinhive has been installed, has been reported to have infected a number of commercial websites in addition to the websites of U.S. and other governmental agencies in order to mine Monero.
Monero declares war on cybercriminals
In September 2018, Monero announced the formation of the Monero Malware Response Workgroup. The workgroup created a website dedicated to educating not just Monero users but the general public on how to remove cryptojacking malware from their devices and prevent future infection. The site also offers detailed explanations of the basics of Monero mining.
In the announcement, Justin Ehrenhofer, head of the new workgroup, explained that the two primary reasons why hackers tend to prefer to use Monero in their attacks are its anonymity and the proof-of-work model used by its blockchain, which is particularly advantageous for hackers. He also made a point of openly condemning the practice on behalf of the greater Monero community: "The Monero community condemns this malicious, non-consensual use of equipment to mine. Unfortunately, the Monero network itself actually benefits by having a wide set of stakeholders mine, since the network's security is afforded through a distributed set of users."
The Kidnapping of Anne-Elisabeth Hagen
On October 31, 2018, Anne-Elisabeth Hagen, the spouse of Norwegian real estate investor Tom Hagen, disappeared. According to a Norwegian tabloid paper Verdens Gang, unnamed sources reported kidnappers had demanded €9 million paid in Monero. Authorities and the family of the victim declined to make any public comments regarding the payment of a ransom.
The Outlaw Group
A hacker group calling itself "The Outlaw Group" reportedly used a specialized version of a cryptojacking Trojan computer virus called "Shellbot" to hijack Linux systems, exploiting their processing power to mine XMR. Researchers at Jask Sepcial Ops, who investigated the attacks, determined that these attacks also resulted in personal and system data being stolen. The researchers also said that Windows and Android devices were vulnerable to the virus as well.
Bail Bloc is a software program that mines Monero to contribute to the National Bail Fund Network, which pays bail for low-income people in pre-trial incarceration. In 2020, during the widespread protests against police brutality in the U.S., Bail Bloc saw a 20 percent increase in its hashrate, which its creator Grayson Earle attributed to more people seeking to bail out protesters wrongly jailed during the nationwide demonstrations.
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