Home » Crypto » Crypto dusting attacks: What is it and how can you prevent it?

What is crypto dusting?

Crypto dusting refers to a small quantity of cryptocurrency that is sent to numerous wallet addresses, with intentions that can be either beneficial or harmful. Typically, dust is defined as an amount of cryptocurrency that is equal to or lower than the transaction fee. For example, Bitcoin has a dust limit set by Bitcoin Core, the software powering the Bitcoin blockchain, which is approximately 546 satoshis—the smaller unit of Bitcoin (BTC). Transactions equal to or less than this limit may be rejected by wallet nodes that enforce it.

Furthermore, dust can also refer to a small amount of cryptocurrency that remains after a trade due to transaction fees or rounding errors. Over time, this residue can accumulate. Although this residual amount cannot be traded, it can be converted into the native token of the exchange.

While crypto dust has primarily been utilized for legitimate purposes rather than malicious ones, it is still essential for users to understand the concept and exercise caution in the event of a dust attack. Dusting can be employed as an alternative form of advertising, akin to traditional mailshots, by targeting wallet holders. These dust transactions may include promotional messages, making them a useful substitute for mailshots. While crypto dust is not a significant threat, it is crucial for crypto users to comprehend the associated risks and take appropriate measures to protect themselves.

Crypto dusting attack: What is it?

Malicious attackers realized that cryptocurrency users don’t pay much attention to small amounts showing in their crypto wallet addresses. So they started dusting a large number of addresses by transmitting a tiny number of satoshis to them. After dusting distinct addresses, the next step of the dusting attack includes a combined analysis of those addresses in an attempt to find which ones belong to the same crypto wallet. The goal is to eventually connect the dusted addresses and wallets to their respective happening with Litecoin, BNB, and other cryptocurrencies. 

When attackers transfer small amounts of dust to wallets, their intention is to compromise the privacy of the wallet owners by tracing their funds as they are moved between different addresses. The objective of the attackers is not to directly steal cryptocurrency, as the act of dusting alone does not enable such theft. Instead, their goal is to link the targeted address with other addresses, potentially exposing the victim’s identity through off-blockchain hacking activities.

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How does a crypto dusting attack work?

Malicious attackers exploit the fact that cryptocurrency users often overlook receiving small amounts of cryptocurrencies in their wallet addresses. Due to the traceability and transparency of blockchain technology, it is possible to trace transaction movements and potentially identify wallet owners. For crypto dust to be effective, it needs to be combined with other funds in the wallet and used for additional transactions by the wallet owner.

By including a small amount of cryptocurrency in other transactions, the target inadvertently and unknowingly transfers the dust’s information to an off-blockchain centralized organization. As these centralized platforms are required to comply with Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations, they store the personal information of the victim. This can make the victim vulnerable to phishing attacks, cyber extortion threats, blackmail, and other targeted off-blockchain hacks aimed at stealing sensitive data.

UTXO-based cryptocurrency addresses used in different blockchains, particularly Bitcoin, Dash, and Litecoin, are more susceptible to dusting attacks. This is because these blockchains generate a new address for each leftover change from transactions. UTXO (Unspent Transaction Output) is a mechanism that prevents double-spending, whereby it represents the remaining output of a transaction that can be used as input for subsequent transactions.

Can a crypto dusting attack steal crypto?

No, the traditional dusting attack is incapable of being employed to gain access to users’ funds and steal their crypto assets. However, using progressively advanced tools, hackers can deceive wallet owners into visiting phishing websites, leading to the drainage of their funds.

The purpose of a traditional dusting attack is to identify the individuals or groups associated with the wallets, undermine their anonymity, and compromise their privacy and identity. These activities do not directly steal cryptocurrency but rather aim to uncover the social activities of the victims by tracking the combination of various addresses. The ultimate goal is to use this information for purposes, such as blackmail. 

As time has passed and new applications of technology, such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized finance (DeFi), have emerged, attackers have grown more sophisticated. They have developed the ability to disguise scam tokens as free cryptocurrency airdrops. Wallet owners are attracted to claim these enticing tokens from well-known NFT projects on phishing websites created by hackers, which are designed to appear legitimate. These deceptive sites closely resemble the authentic ones, making it challenging for the average cryptocurrency enthusiast to discern the genuine from the fraudulent.

Phishing sites persuade victims to connect their wallets, granting them access to move funds and NFT assets, ultimately stealing cryptocurrency via harmful code in smart contracts. Dusting attacks are increasingly prevalent on browser-based wallets like MetaMask and Trust Wallet, which are commonly utilized for decentralized applications (DApps) and Web3 services. These wallets are more vulnerable to dusting attacks due to their wider accessibility and susceptibility to targeting by hackers and scammers.

Past crypto dusting attack

In 2019, one of the notable instances of a crypto dusting attack occurred on the Litecoin network, where numerous dust transactions were observed. The source of the attack was quickly traced back to a group that was promoting their Litecoin mining pool. Although no harm was caused, it raised concerns about the potential malicious intent behind such attacks.

A similar dusting attack took place on the Bitcoin network in 2018, where thousands of wallets were credited with 888 satoshis. It was later revealed that the platform advertising the attack was BestMixed, a crypto mixer platform.

Another instance of dusting attack occurred on Ethereum, where accounts were blocked from utilizing DeFi apps due to receiving ETH that had been transferred through a US-censored platform called Tornado Cash. This dusting attack was executed as a DOS (Denial-of-Service) attack rather than for identity theft or cyberstalking purposes.

These incidents highlighted the negative consequences of dusting attacks and emphasized the need to address them. However, there are strategies available to mitigate such attacks. By implementing these methods, users can effectively protect themselves from these attacks or at least reduce their impact.

How to identify a crypto dusting attack?

The clear indication of the dusting attack is the sudden appearance of a small amount of extra cryptocurrency unsuitable for withdrawing or spending in the wallet. The dusting attack transaction can be seen in the wallet’s transaction history making it easier to verify if the malicious dusting deposit occurred or not. Concerning how cryptocurrency exchanges work and comply with KYC and Anti-Money Laundering (AML), they will store their user’s information, making them a potential victim of cryptocurrency scams. After the victim combined the dust with other funds and sent it, they received a confirmation of the transaction containing a malicious link. This link contained an offer designed to deceive the victim into clicking on it, leading to their unwitting hacking.

Prevention for crypto dusting attack

Prevention for crypto dusting attack
  • Opt for a unique address per transaction: Employing a distinct address for each transaction can create obstacles for attackers attempting to associate your identity with your addresses. Utilizing a cryptocurrency wallet tool enables the generation of fresh addresses for every transaction.
  • Utilize a hardware wallet: A hardware wallet, a physical device, securely stores your cryptocurrency offline, significantly impeding attackers’ ability to access your funds.
  • Choose a privacy-oriented cryptocurrency: Certain cryptocurrencies, like Monero, prioritize privacy and anonymity more than others. Opting for these cryptocurrencies can complicate attackers’ efforts to trace your transactions and establish connections with your identity.
  • Employ privacy-enhancing tools: Various tools are available to augment your privacy when engaging with cryptocurrencies. Examples include privacy-focused wallets and coin mixers, which obscure the origin of your cryptocurrency transactions.
  • Continuously Monitor and Analyze Transactions: It is important to remain alert by consistently monitoring your cryptocurrency transactions. Utilize blockchain explorers or dedicated tools to examine the transaction records linked to your addresses. By actively monitoring your transactions, you can identify any suspicious activity or incoming insignificant transactions.
  • Keep Security Measures Up to Date: Make sure to establish strong security measures for your cryptocurrency wallets and devices. Keep your wallets and software updated with the most recent security patches, and utilize strong and unique passwords. Additionally, activate two-factor authentication (2FA) to add an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access.

Future Thoughts

Crypto dusting attacks refer to a cyber-attack that tends to compromise the privacy of a user. However, by taking precautions, users can minimize the risk of such attacks. Always remain cautious while interacting with unknown transactions and using privacy coins to secure the user’s identity. 

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