Cyber criminals are targeting gamers with "mining malware" as they look to get crypto-rich, according to research published by security firm Avast.
The so-called "Crackonosh" malware is being hidden in free versions of games like NBA 2K19, Grand Theft Auto V, Far Cry 5, The Sims 4 and Jurassic World Evolution, which are available to download on torrent sites, Avast said on Thursday.
Once installed, Crackonosh quietly uses the computer's processing power to mine cryptocurrencies for the hackers. The malware has been used to generate $2 million worth of a cryptocurrency known as Moreno since at least June 2018, according to Avast.
Avast researcher Daniel Benes told CNBC that infected users may notice that their computers slow down or deteriorate through overuse, while their electricity bill may also be higher than normal.
"It takes all the resources that the computer has so the computer is unresponsive," he said.
Some 220,000 users have been infected worldwide and 800 devices are being infected every day, according to Benes. However, Avast only detects malicious software on devices that have its antivirus software installed so the actual number could be significantly higher. Brazil, India and the Philippines are among the worst affected countries, while the U.S. has also seen many cases.
The researchers said Crackonosh takes several steps to try to protect itself once it has been installed including disabling Windows Updates and uninstalling security software.
As for where the malware comes from, Avast believes that the author may be Czech — Crackonosh means "mountain spirit" in Czech folklore.
Avast discovered the malware after customers reported the firm's antivirus was missing from their systems, citing one example of a user posting on Reddit. The company said it investigated this report and others like it.
"In summary, Crackonosh shows the risks in downloading cracked software and demonstrates that it is highly profitable for attackers," wrote Benes.
"As long as people continue to download cracked software, attacks like these will continue to be profitable for attackers," Benes added. "The key take-away from this is that you really can't get something for nothing and when you try to steal software, odds are someone is trying to steal from you."
This is not the first time that malware has impacted games. Researchers at Cisco-Talos discovered malware inside cheat software for multiple games in March. Meanwhile, a new hacking campaign targeted gamers via the Steam platform earlier this month.
The number of cyberattacks on gamers has surged 340% during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from Akamai Security Research this week.
"Criminals are relentless, and we have the data to show it," said Steve Ragan, Akamai security researcher and author of the State of the Internet/Security report.
"We're observing a remarkable persistence in video game industry defenses being tested on a daily — and often hourly — basis by criminals probing for vulnerabilities through which to breach servers and expose information. We're also seeing numerous group chats forming on popular social networks that are dedicated to sharing attack techniques and best practices."