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updated 6/17/2011 1:45:13 PM ET 2011-06-17T17:45:13

 

Ever heard of Bitcoin? It's a form of "digital currency" that's rapidly catching on across the Internet, allowing you to buy items from and sell them to other people around the world without having to change money or pay a middleman.

In a sure sign that Bitcoin is entering the mainstream, the first piece of malware designed to steal Bitcoins was discovered yesterday by two different security companies.

The piece of malware, a Trojan variously called Infostealer.Coinbit or Trojan-PSW:W32/CoinBit.A, infects a victim's PC, locates the Bitcoin "wallet" and emails it to a server in Poland.

"If you use Bitcoins," wrote Symantec's Stephen Doherty, "you have the option to encrypt your wallet and we recommend that you choose a strong password for this in the event that an attacker is attempting to brute-force your wallet open."

Bitcoins are generated by individual users' computers using open-source software that forces the PC to compute laborious calculations – a process called "bitcoin mining." Basically, the more time your PC devotes to "mining," the more Bitcoins you get.

A single Bitcoin currently trades for about $15 U.S. dollars on a semi-official exchange board.

The price has plummeted from $20 per Bitcoin a few days ago, thanks to a Bitcoin forum posting on Monday by a user who said his Bitcoin wallet had been robbed of 25,000 Bitcoins – about $500,000 at Monday's rates. (On the same day, an anonymous donation of 25,000 Bitcoins was reportedly made to the hacker pranksters of LulzSec.)

[ Are the LulzSec Hackers Asking to Get Caught? ]

Some observers suspected the posting about the theft was a hoax, but the discovery of this new Trojan makes it more likely the theft was real.

For an explanation of how Bitcoin works, click here or watch this video:

 

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