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Nova Scotia university forced to shut down entire network after attempted bitcoin mining attack

A sign marks one of the entrances to the St. Francis Xavier University campus in Antigonish, N.S., on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018.
A sign marks one of the entrances to the St. Francis Xavier University campus in Antigonish, N.S., on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

St. Francis Xavier University says that “cryptocoin mining” was the culprit behind an attempted cyberattack that forced the school to shut down its network for four days last week.

According to a statement issued on the university’s website, the software attempted to “utilize StFX’s collective computing power in order to create or discover bitcoin for monetary gain.”

Cryptocurrency mining is a process by which digital currency transactions are recorded, verified and stored in a public ledger called the blockchain.

READ MORE: Attempted cyberattack results in network shutdown at St. Francis Xavier University

This process is carried out by miners, who use powerful computers to navigate cryptographic problems to select transaction blocks. The transaction fees associated with using cryptocurrencies are awarded to the miners.

This process, however, uses a significant amount of energy and requires a vast amount of computing power — something the public university has a lot of.

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The attack forced StFX to pull its website offline on Thursday as they began investigating the issue.

The shutdown disrupted access to email, Wi-Fi, debit transactions, the school’s online course system, shared storage space and drives on the St. FX network.

“At this time, there is no evidence that any personal information within our network was breached,” the university said in a statement.

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They say they’ll continue to monitor the situation as well the university’s network for suspicious activity in the coming days and week.

StFX is now asking everyone at the university to reset their passwords as a result of the incident.

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