For a brief time this weekend, the U.S. government was mining bitcoin — though it wasn't aware it was doing so.
According to Reuters reports, thousands of sites were infected for several hours on Sunday with malware that causes web browsers to mine digital currency in secret. Sites run by both the U.S. and U.K. governments were affected.
All in all, over 4,200 sites were hit with the cryptojacking code, which is reportedly called Coinhive and was hidden within popular software plugin BrowseAloud. The software was originally designed by British software maker Texthelp to read webpages for people with vision problems.
Forced bitcoin mining viruses that essentially enslave computers and turn them into crypto mining boxes on behalf of hackers have become an increasingly common phenomenon as the price of bitcoin surged. The compromised version of BrowseAloud allowed the Coinhive code for mining the digital currency Monero to run on computers that visited infected sites — those crytpo coins can be traded for cash or other digital currency.
Representatives of the U.S. and British law enforcement agencies and Texthelp could not immediately be reached for comment, according to reports.
The hacking operation was shut down by disabling BrowseAloud with an assist from Texthelp. The software maker's engineering team was also investigating the malware.