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A trojan horse virus that steals Bitcoins, a digital currency that people can use for transactions online, has been spotted in the wild, according to computer security software firm Symantec.
The trojan, called Infostealer.coinbit, finds a Bitcoin owner’s “digital wallet”, which contains information about the individual’s Bitcoins, and mails it to the attacker. The hacker can then use a brute-force attack to discover the password for the Bitcoin wallet and steal the owner’s Bitcoins.
The new announcement today adds to concerns about the safety of investing in the digital currency, which faces the same security problems that anything else stored on a network or hard drive faces. The whole Bitcoin ecosystem is also inevitably linked to computer systems. And there have been plenty of instances where even some of the best online services, like Amazon’s cloud computing, have failed for significant periods of time.
This is the second time Bitcoins have made news because of potential security concerns linked to the currency’s digital origins. A thief recently stole 25,000 Bitcoins — which amounted to roughly $500,000 at the time they were stolen — from a compromised Windows computer.
Geeks and tech-savvy individuals have heralded Bitcoins as the next evolution of currency because it is designed to remove the middle man in transactions. That can be a transaction provider like PayPal or a bank when someone makes a purchase with a credit or debit card. When someone makes a transaction, the Bitcoin is automatically transferred to the recipient through an encrypted transaction that ensures Bitcoins can’t be hacked or created artificially.
New Bitcoins are added to the market through “Bitcoin Mining” — a process where individuals run servers that handle Bitcoin transactions and get paid in Bitcoins for doing so. The number of Bitcoins available to users is algorithmically limited — meaning the number of new Bitcoins introduced into the economy decreases over time and reaches a cap of somewhere around 21 million. That means that, similar to days on the stock market where there is low trading volume, smaller moves in the market are able to cause greater swings in the value of the Bitcoin. An 8 percent swing in the value of the Bitcoin throughout the day is pretty typical.
Symantec said that the whole method of generating Bitcoins was an open invitation to malware developers to exploit the system. Tech-savvy hackers that control botnets — a massive network of computers that they can send commands to — can use those huge botnets to generate nearly $100,000 a month through Bitcoin mining based on an exchange rate of $20 per Bitcoin.
Despite a lot of hype surrounding the new currency, the currency is facing growing pains with new reports of theft and heavy volatility in the Bitcoin trading market. The currency is unstable and is being used mostly as a speculative vehicle, according to the consensus answer on question-and-answer site Quora.