Top tips is a weekly column where we highlight what’s trending in the tech world today and list ways to explore these trends. This week, we’re looking at three signs that your device may be infected with crypto malware.

Has your computer been acting strange lately? Has the performance tanked out of nowhere, and are you experiencing overheating issues even though you’re not running any particularly demanding tasks at the moment? Well, you, my friend, may have fallen victim to cryptojacking.

Cryptojacking, while not as inherently malicious as some other forms of malware, is still a problem that can cause serious damage in the long run—to both personal computing devices and even large-scale IT processes.

Cryptojacking refers to the act of implanting malware (be it a file or script) that, when executed, quietly uses the victim’s computing resources in the background to perform unauthorized cryptomining. And since cryptomining is incredibly hardware-intensive, it can cause performance issues in the victim’s device.

Cryptojacking is typically carried out by either using malware installed on your device or running as a web-based process when you visit a particular page. In fact, some ads you view could also contain scripts that use your resources to mine cryptocurrency during that browsing session.

When we’re talking about personal computing, the effects of cryptojacking are limited to performance and lifespan (a definite headache, yes, but it’s not as actively harmful as other cybersecurity threats like ransomware and phishing). However, in the context of complex business or infrastructure operations, cryptojacking could severely impair your systems, affecting service delivery and, by extension, the user experience. What’s more, cyrptojacking may also affect internal processes, making it difficult for legitimate stakeholders to access critical information. 

How to tell when you’ve been cryptojacked

Here are three signs to look out for that can help you determine if you’ve been cryptojacked: 

1. Reduced performance

Since unauthorized cryptomining is an intensive process, it causes additional strain on the system, resulting in random instances of slowdown and reduced performance. If there are enough simultaneous tasks, the addition of the mining software could also result in the system crashing entirely. If your device starts underperforming without any explanation, this could point to the presence of cryptojacking malware.

2. Overheating

Cryptojacking can cause your device to overheat due to the increased strain on the hardware. Your device may start to overheat even when you’re not performing any particularly demanding task or when you’re visiting a particular webpage. This is especially problematic when you consider the fact that crypto malware typically goes undetected for long periods of time, and these overheating issues can cause damage to your device’s hardware.

3. CPU and GPU usage spikes

Watch out for sudden spikes in your CPU and GPU usage, especially during tasks where this shouldn’t be happening. This could indicate some unknown background processes that might be crypto malware. However, crypto malware is generally disguised as a legitimate process, making it hard to detect. Some crypto malware can also recognize when you open the task manager and cease operations until you close it.

Don’t be a victim

The whole point of cryptojacking is to exploit your system’s resources as quietly as possible for as long as possible, so by definition, it’s going to be hard to detect. Thankfully, there are anti-malware tools like Malwarebytes that you can use to detect and remove cryptomining malware.

Worst case scenario, you’ll have to wipe your system and start from scratch, but this isn’t too much of an issue if you’ve backed up all your data. Don’t visit any sketchy sites, make sure you’ve got a good ad blocker installed, and keep an eye out for the three signs of cryptojacking we’ve described above. While there’s no way to be 100% safe from such attacks, these tips can go a long way in ensuring that you’re as safe as possible and can detect and remove crypto malware if you’ve fallen victim to cryptojacking.