Crypto mining: Latest frontier in campus network security

Dive Brief:

  • Students are becoming more active in crypto-mining, a process of verifying cryptocurrency transactions and adding them to a digital spending ledger in exchange for a service fee. The process requires a powerful computer program and access to a large source of energy — a formula that a new report from cyber attack prevention firm Vectra says is making college network infrastructure vulnerable to infiltration, according to Infosecurity magazine.
  • The report showed that 60% of cryptocurrency mining detections occurred in higher education, followed by the entertainment and leisure (6%), financial services (3%), technology (3%) and healthcare (2%) industries. A recent increase in cryptocurrency access has helped to boost the number of miners looking to cash in buyers and sellers looking for quick, verified transaction.
  • The report recommends institutions build awareness of crypto-mining activities and clean machines of malware that can attack other personal computers. It also suggests campuses consider taking legal action against students who use the network for these activities.


Dive Insight:

While the growing crypto-mining industry claims activity on about 2,200 devices per every 10,000 used on higher education networks, student fascination with the technology strongly resembles the use of music file sharing sites, like Napster and Limewire, in early 2000. These sites eventually were limited by campus policy and litigation, and the same can be done with network access for heavy-duty cryptocurrency transaction and coding work.

Identifying bad actors’ IP addresses and login activity is the easy part. Communicating with students about the risk associated with network abuse is a little more difficult, given the assumption that students won’t see the communication sent to them through multiple means of outreach. One approach may be to have students sign a legally binding network use agreement or to amend existing agreements to reflect cryptocurrency activity, with violations that can include fines or dismissal from school.

But there’s an additional layer to this story; How can schools turn student expertise in this form of computing into learning or credentialing opportunity? If students can build reputations as digital bankers, can colleges mine that same talent to venture into legitimate currency transacting? Much in the way institutions, including the University of Nevada Las Vegas, have maximized interest and revenue in gaming, campuses could develop technology and culture for safer, legitimate exchange of money.

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