U.S. Government Sites Among Thousands Infected by Cryptocurrency Miner

Today’s topics include a cryptocurrency miner exploiting thousands of sites through an accessibility script; Valentine’s Day dating scam emails; Microsoft System Center’s first semi-annual release; and Google beta testing Cloud Tensor Processing Units.

On Feb. 11, Texthelp reported that its Browsealoud text-to-speech extension was compromised by a third-party accessibility script, impacting thousands of websites. Browsealoud is widely deployed on sites around the world, particularly on government websites that use the tool to help enable better accessibility.

"The attacker added malicious code to the file to use the browser CPU in an attempt to illegally generate crypto-currency," said Martin McKay, CTO and data security officer at Texthelp.

Injected into the Browsealoud code was the Coinhive Monero cryptocurrency mining code, which is an in-browser mining script that uses the CPU power of the system it is running on in an attempt to mine cryptocurrency. While the altered code from Browsealoud did consume CPU resources on end-user systems, Texthelp said no customer data was accessed or lost. 

Taking advantage of Valentine's Day, spammers have increased the volume of fake dating messages, according to IBM’s X-Force security research unit.

"Over 230 million emails [have] accumulated … over two weeks. Those were all from the same campaign that filled inboxes with dating scam emails," said Limor Kessem, executive security advisor at IBM Security. The dating spam subject lines varied and were relatively minimal messages like "Hi" or "Hey," with the body of the email claiming to be from Russian women living in the U.S. and looking for companionship.

Kessem said, "Unfortunately, there is no way to know what the click-through volume might be because it happens on each individual's own device, and via their email account, which is private and not visible through [the X-Force unit’s] research.” However, the dating spammers tend to use a multiple step process to exploit respondents. If one scam does not work, they will try another.

Microsoft has released its latest version of System Center, its data center monitoring and management toolset. With System Center 1801, Microsoft is switching to a new numbering scheme. Microsoft announced last November that System Center was joining Windows 10, Windows Server and Office by following a semi-annual release schedule.

In its first semi-annual release, System Center's Virtual Machine Manager component has several new capabilities, according to Bala Rajagopalan, principal group program manager of System Center at Microsoft.

"Customers can now set up nested virtualization, software load balancer configuration, and storage QoS configuration and policy, as well as migrate VMware UEFI VM to Hyper-V VM." System Center 1801 also promises to make VMware backups more efficient and cost-effective.

Google has started beta testing a new family of internally designed hardware accelerators called Cloud Tensor Processing Units for speeding up certain machine learning workloads on its cloud platform.

TPUs are comprised of four application specific integrated circuits. A single TPU packs up to 180 teraflops of performance and up to 64GB of high-bandwidth memory in a single board. The boards can be used in standalone fashion or they can be linked together via dedicated network connections to form so-called TPU pods.

TPUs deliver improved cost performance for targeted machine learning workloads programmed with the TensorFlow open-source software library, and will allow machine learning researchers and engineers to more quickly train, run and build their machine learning models. The new TPUs also eliminate the need for machine learning researchers to spend days and even weeks in training a business-critical model.