Tech News : Suspected Cannabis Farm Turns Out To Be A Bitcoin Mining Farm

Police in Sandwell in the West Midlands recently discovered a warehouse that had been converted to an operation to illegally supply large quantities of electricity for Bitcoin mining.

Same Heat & Electricity Profile as a Cannabis Farm

The warehouse was raided by police after the heat generated, which had been spotted by the heat camera on a police drone, and the excessive electricity consumption appeared to show all the hallmarks of a cannabis farm.

The find, the second of its kind in the area, showed that criminals have adapted an existing money-generating model to tap into a technological rather than a biological fast money-making scheme that essentially cuts out the middlemen and delivers direct profit with fewer risks.

Illegal Electricity Supply

The criminals were found to have made an illegal connection to the electricity supply from Western Power in order to power the 100 computer units that were discovered in the warehouse.

Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin “mining” uses specialised Bitcoin computers that are constantly powered on and connected to the cryptocurrency network to verify transactions (sending and receiving of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency).  This verification is achieved by the computers solving puzzles to prevent fraud and to win small amounts of Bitcoin. The whole process is extremely energy hungry. In fact, Researchers from Cambridge recently highlighted how Bitcoin mining consumes 21.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year, meaning that if Bitcoin were a country, its energy (electricity) consumption would be ranked above Argentina and the energy could power all the kettles in the UK for 27 years.

Three People Suspected

Three people, who were described by a witness (on the Birmingham Live website) as looking “a bit nerdy and dodgy” had apparently been noticed visiting the warehouse unit at the Great Bridge Industrial Estate, Tipton, at odd hours over the past 8 months.  The warehouse unit was reported to have suspicious-looking wiring and ventilation ducts visible from the outside.

Bitcoin Mining Not Illegal

Although Bitcoin mining is not illegal, the way the criminals obtained the electricity for the operation, which was estimated to have used thousands of pounds worth of power does appear to have been illegal.  Also, damage to the unit through its conversion to crypto-mining farm is yet to be assessed.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Criminals, particularly in the tech world, are always looking for scams and schemes that deliver maximum profit for minimum ongoing effort, whilst maintaining their anonymity and keeping their distance (often the other side of the world) from their crimes. This scheme shows how criminals have tried to be smart (in the technical sense) by using an existing idea (taking over a building and an electricity supply) to make a fast profit with middlemen from a currency that would be very difficult to trace back to them through the online technical route. Their mistakes, however, appeared to be that they failed to take account of elements in the real-world (i.e. the heat generated that could be spotted by police surveillance). Also, although they are likely to have made money by keeping their distance online but the wiring, setting up and monitoring of the warehouse meant that they had to remain physically too close to their crime, which in this case is the theft of electricity.

This story illustrates how tech-based criminals are finding ever-more creative and sophisticated ways to exploit opportunities and make money, and businesses should, therefore, focus on making their cyber-defences as robust as possible using tried and tested methods to stop any basic breaches, however creative the methodology.

Tech News : Guarding Against The Rise In Router and VoIP Attacks

After a recent high profile media story highlighted how poor router security led to a police raid of the home of an innocent family, we take a look at how Wi-Fi piggybacking attacks against home and domestic targets, and VoIP hacking of businesses worldwide are growing threats.

What Happened?

It has been reported that in January this year during the lockdown, the family home of a couple and their two young children was unexpectedly raided by police. The shocked and frightened family could only look on as their desktop computer, two laptops (and a borrowed laptop), current (in-use) mobile phones and old mobile phones retrieved from drawers around the house were taken away by officers. The family found themselves with just a landline for communications, and under suspicion for a crime which, as it later transpired, they did not commit, and knew nothing about.

Work Laptop

To make matters worse, the father of the family was forced to tell his boss that the police required the decryption key to unlock his work laptop, thereby making him fear for his job.

Wi-Fi Accessed Due To Poor Router Security

When the devices, which the family were told had been taken for ‘evidence’, were finally returned two months later, it became clear that a mistake had been made because the family’s Wi-Fi connection had been used without their knowledge, and by an unknown party to upload illegal images to a chat site. 

The evidence given to the police by the National Crime Agency which led to the raid, had suggested that the illegal uploading had come from the family’s IP address. In reality, the family had simply fallen victim to criminals piggybacking their insecure wireless connection. The weakness that had allowed the attack is believed to have been a weak/poor default password on their old router.

Router Danger

A recent Which? investigation looked at the security aspects of 13 models of (commonly used) old routers from companies such as Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk, EE, and Vodafone. It was discovered that 6 million users may have router models that have not been updated since 2018 at the latest, with some not being updated since as far back as 2016! The investigation discovered issues with more than half of all routers (of those surveyed).  This suggests that as many as 7.5 million users could have routers with security risks.

The main vulnerabilities threatening the security of business and home-user routers, which are often the same thing now with remote working, include weak default passwords that can be easily guessed by hackers, meaning that the router could be accessed remotely, from anywhere in the world. Local network vulnerabilities can also allow a cybercriminal to take control of a user’s device, see what a person is browsing, or even direct a user to malicious websites. A lack of recent updates to the Firmware of a router could also negatively affect a device’s performance, thereby affecting productivity, and leave outstanding security issues.

VoIP Systems Hacks on the Increase

Recent ‘Check Point’ research has also shown that there has been a big rise in cyber-fraud operations targeting VoIP phone systems worldwide. For example, a Gaza-based hacking group was found to be responsible targeting servers used by more than 1,200 organisations based across over 60 countries, with half of those targets being in the UK! What’s more, hackers worldwide are creating their own social media groups to share tips and know-how relating to VoIP phone system hacking and to organise and co-ordinate future attacks.

What To Do

Businesses can guard against router security threats by taking measures such as changing the username and password(s), ensuring that the router’s firmware up to date, changing the network name/SSID, stopping the Wi-Fi network name/SSID from being broadcast, enabling the router’s firewall, or simply opting for a router upgrade / a new, more secure router.

To guard against the threat of VoIP phone system hacks, businesses need to make sure that their security patch installation management systems and procedures are up to date, call billings are regularly analysed, there is clear and robust password policy in place, and that an intrusion prevention system is implemented.

Tech Insight – What Is Bandwidth?

In this article we take a look at what bandwidth is, ways to improve bandwidth, and we look at how bandwidth ‘throttling’ is used.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that can be transferred from one point to another over an internet connection in a given period of time. It is typically calculated and expressed in bits per second (bps) or megabits per second (Mbps).

The data that is transferred across the Internet is sent in the form of data ‘packets’, each containing a source and destination, and the content being transferred.  Networks with higher bandwidths are able to transfer larger numbers of data packets than connections with lower bandwidths.

Speed

Bandwidth is not the same as speed because while bandwidth refers to the amount of information received per second, speed refers to how fast that information is received or downloaded.

Latency

The latency/delay/ping rate is the time lag that users experience while waiting for something to load (e.g. web pages). Even if plenty of bandwidth is available, reducing latency will improve the speed at which data packets move across the network.

Not all data makes it through to its destination. Taking bandwidth as the maximum that could get through, the ‘throughput’ refers to how much actually makes it to the destination. Some data can be prevented from doing so due to factors such as packet loss caused by errors in transmission or congestion. 

Broadband

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) enable users to connect to the Internet at high speed through broadband. This is essentially a wide bandwidth data transmission carrying different types of signals through an infrastructure made of different components along the route (e.g. coaxial cable or optical fibre). Different ISPs offer different broadband speeds but, as previously mentioned, speed is not the same thing as bandwidth.

Ways To Improve Bandwidth

Some of the key ways that you can improve bandwidth are to:

– Upgrade your plan with your ISP to get higher Mbps e.g. to a Fios Gigabit Connection.  This may be helpful for those who stream large amounts of content and use many different devices.

– Update/upgrade the router or frequently reboot the router to strengthen the Internet connection.

– Use physical, Ethernet wire connections to the router. This can help to get around problems such as connection issues with other devices.

Throttling

Bandwidth throttling is a way that ISPs intentionally slow down their internet service/slow down the data transmission for reasons including regulating network traffic, saving money, minimising bandwidth congestion, or, as in most cases, due to excess use on a plan that has a data cap. Throttling is not illegal but users should be informed if the ISP is using it.

Avoiding Throttling

One way to avoid throttling is to use a virtual private network (VPN) as ISPs cannot see the encrypted traffic. Users can test whether their service is being throttled, for example, by running two speed tests, one using the normal connection and one using a VPN.  If the VPN is much faster, this could indicate that throttling is being used.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses, therefore, need to assess how much bandwidth they are likely to need, e.g. by taking into account factors such as how many employees need to be accessing the network and the bandwidth requirements needed for the applications that they use. Other ways to help include getting on the right plan from the ISP, using cables to the router, organising network backups and updates, monitoring and policing the traffic, migrating apps to the cloud, using WAN optimisation tools, and more. For businesses to maximise productivity and continuity, how to maximise their bandwidth is, therefore, an important consideration.

Featured Article : Safely Moving Your Tech Hardware

With many of us now owning tech items such as laptops, desktops, and printers, we look at the best ways to prepare tech hardware for a safe journey to a new home.

Tech Owners

An Aviva survey from 2020 showed that the average UK home now has 10.3 internet-enabled devices (286 million in UK homes) and that having children in the home increases the average number of devices.  For example, a UK home with 3 children can now typically hosts 15.4 internet-enabled items.

Add to these statistics the fact that the number of people working from home in the UK almost doubled during the pandemic (ONS figures) to 25.9%, and it’s clear that our tech devices, such as laptops and PCs, have a value and importance well beyond their physical price tag as work tools, vital communications and home research tools, and entertainment gateways.

When it comes to moving home, therefore, it is especially important to ensure that these items are protected and that they can quickly resume their function safely at their new destination.

Preparation of Tech For The Removals Journey

Good preparation begins with good IT practice and extends to preparing for any possible risks to your tech items. Key preparation activities should be:

– Backing Up. Having a reliable, secure, cloud-based backup service for your work and vital data should be standard work practice anyway to preserve business continuity and to preserve valuable memories (photos and videos). Before moving, however, backing up PCs and laptops can ensure that in the event of any physical damage to an item, your data has been saved.

– Connection. Making sure in advance, where possible, that where you’re moving to has enough sockets, phone points, and likely a decent likely broadband provision (check with your provider if in doubt) can enable a fast tech setup at the other end.

– Security. Make sure that prior to removal, devices have password protection in place so that only you access them, and that any sensitive data is not stored on the device itself (which should be part of normal backup procedures).

– Careful disassembly. It is easier for your removals company, and safer (for the device) to ensure that everything has been disassembled in an organised way (e.g. peripherals, leads, power adapters, your router, monitors, and computers). Arranging the items so that each device and its cables and adapters go in the same box can speed up re-assembly at the other end.

Packing Tech Devices For Removals

Tech devices and peripherals are high value and contain small components that can be easily damaged by knocks and bumps.  Also, some devices are rarely disassembled after their original assembly in the home, so users can be unfamiliar with which lead goes where, and belongs to which device.  With these concerns in mind, when preparing for your home removals:

– Ensure that you have boxes, bubble wrap, packing paper, tape, and enough soft materials to pack them with similar protection to when they were first shipped.

– Record what goes where. Taking a photo on your phone of where cables are plugged in, and or using labelling (round cables) or colour-coded tape can help you to re-assemble your tech hardware quickly at its new home.

– Take portable storage devices with you.  If you still use storage devices such as USBs, or even external hard drives, you may decide that its better and safer to take these with you (e.g. in a bag/box in your car) so that you can minimise the chance of losing them or forgetting which box you put them in.  Cloud back-up storage can be a much safer way of keeping your personal data safe.

– Label your boxes.  Clearly labelling your tech device boxes will help you to quickly find and re-assemble them at the other end.

– Trust your removals company. Your removals company has experience in safely transporting tech devices and high-value, delicate home and office hardware. Their fully trained, trustworthy staff are able to assess your situation from the quote to the move itself. Your removals company should also be able to give advice wherever it’s needed.

Tech Tip – Sending ‘Private’ Emails in Gmail

If you need to send an email containing private/sensitive information, you can do it in Gmail using confidential mode. Here’s how:

– Open Gmail and log into your account.

– In the upper-left corner of the screen, select Compose.

– At the bottom of the New Message window, marked by a padlock and clock icon, is an option to ‘Turn confidential mode on/off’. Turn it to ‘on’.

– Set the expiration date for the email i.e.,1 day, 1week, 1 month, 3 months, or 5 years.

– If you would like the email to require a passcode in order for it to be read, select the ‘SMS passcode’ checkbox.

– Click ‘Save’.

– Write the email and send it.

It’s worth noting that the contents of any emails you send using this confidential mode can’t be forwarded by the recipient, copied, printed, or downloaded.