Thousands of government websites crypto-jacker infected

Australian sites among thousands hacked to include mining script

United Kingdom security researcher Scott Helme and friend Ian Thornton-Trump noticed the ICO website had an illegal cryptominer installed on multiple pages, which appeared to have been inserted to the site's code through an accessibility website plug in called Browsealoud.

All affected websites use the popular plug-in Browsealoud, which reads websites out loud for people with visual impairments.

With the global rise in cyber attacks recently, TextHelp was prepared for such a breach and was able to implement its data security action plan once the hack was discovered.

On investigating further, Helme found that several other government websites from various countries such as uscourts.gov, gmc-uk.gov, nhsinform.scot, manchester.gov.uk, and many more too had started injecting a Coinhive miner. They could have extracted personal data, stolen information or installed malware.

Helme, the researcher, added that this could have been a lot worse, confirming to Which? that it would have been just as simple for hackers to have instead planted "keyloggers" or other much more harmful malware.

There were a number of reports late previous year concerning websites featuring drive-by cryptomining-a practice that uses the CPUs of visitors to surreptitiously mine crytpocurrencies.

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The process forces a visitor's computer to mine cryptocurrency without their consent.

Government sites like the UK's Information Commissioner's Office also took pages down in response. The technology is used by many websites, including those belonging to the US Courts, the General Medical Council, and some local councils. What all the affected sites have in common is that they use an accessibility plugin called Browsealoud - which ordinarily facilitates easy speech, reading and translation tools.

"The adjustment introduced a crypto mining script that was then subsequently included on over 4,000 websites that I know of, many of which were Government websites".

As for the plugin maker is concerned, Texthelp (the company behind Browsealoud) wrote that it does have automated security tests in place, which "detected the modified file and as a result the product was taken offline". Sites in the UK Government, a big user of Browsealoud, were particularly affected. Some of the affected government sites went offline to fix the issue. Notably, though, they said that "there is nothing to suggest that members of the public are at risk" at this stage.

On Sunday, the U.K.'s National Cyber Security Centre issued a statement that it was "examining data involving incidents of malware being used to illegally mine cryptocurrency".

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