Australian government also hit with crypto mining malware

The code in purple is malicioius. Pic Scott Helme

In a hack of unprecedented scope, thousands of government websites around the world have been compromised as part of a criminal scheme to mine a cryptocurrency called Monero, which like Bitcoin and Ethereum is blockchain based, but with a greater focus on transaction privacy.

Security researcher Scott Helme today published his discovery of 4275 government websites across the globe that have been hijacked by Coinhive.

Manchester.gov.uk, NHSinform.scot, agriculture.gov.ie, Croydon.gov.uk, ouh.nhs.uk, legislation.qld.gov.au, the list goes on.

The process, known as crypto-jacking, forces a user's computer to mine cryptocurrency without their permission, generating profits for the hacker.

The plug-in was tampered with overnight to add the Coinhive program.

The Queensland government's main site for its legislation has been hijacked, as have websites belonging to the likes of Queensland Urban Utilities, the Victorian parliament, and South Australia's City of Unley.

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"When you load software like this from a third party, that third party can change it and make it do whatever they want", he said.

Tracking it back, he learnt that it wasn't the website itself that was compromised, but a script file loaded from Texthelp, specifically a tool that allows users to have websites read out to them.

"This removed Browsealoud from all our customer sites immediately, addressing the security risk", he said.

The exploit was online for four hours in the early hours of Monday, during which time most Australians would have been asleep, and probably not accessing government websites.

While the computers of countless people were likely used by the attackers to mine the cryptocurrency, it appears that site visitors are completely in the clear, with Texthelp reporting "no customer data has been accessed or lost".

Ther UK's National Cyber Security Centre said it was investigating the issue.

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