Has your computer been secretly ‘Cryptojacked’?


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One of the most annoying thing about websites today it the huge number of advertisements that are scattered all over the web page. Some even turn on video without your permission. I know that I want to see or read content and not be annoyed by all the ads.

But nothing comes for free, especially online. Websites and apps that don’t charge you for their services are often collecting your data or bombarding you with advertising. Now some sites have found a new way to make money from you: using your computer to generate virtual currencies. It’s called: ‘Cryptojacking’.

Units of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin aren’t created by a central bank like regular money but are generated or “mined” by computers solving complex equations. Cryptojacking involves using someone’s computer without their knowledge, perhaps for just seconds at a time, to mine a cryptocurrency.

Several video streaming sites and the popular file sharing network The Pirate Bay have allegedly been “cryptojacking” their users’ computers in this way, as has many Starbucks stores through it’s free wifi service. Users may object to this, especially if it slows down their computers. But given how hard it is for most companies to make money from online advertising, it might be something we have to get used to – unless we want to start paying more for things.

But Bitcoin is not the only show in town and there are many competing cryptocurrencies. For example, one of the most successful is Monero, which builds a degree of privacy into transactions (something Bitcoin doesn’t do). Currently it requires no specialized hardware for mining, so anyone with computing power to spare can mine it. So that makes many home users just as vulnerable to cryptojacking from the so called, ‘altcoins’, as from the original Bitcoin.

Mining usually takes the form of a competition. Whichever computer solves the equation the fastest is rewarded with the money. With Monero and other similar altcoins, or cryptocurrencies, a pool of computers can work together and share the reward if they win the competition. This allows individual computers to work on a just small part of the mining task. The larger the pool, the more chance there is of winning the reward.

When a computer is cryptojacked, it is added to a pool for to work on the task. This is often done using a commercially available piece of software, such as Coinhive, which can be written into what looks like an ad using the common website language JavaScript. As the ad runs in the background, the computer is added to a pool.

This means the website or internet provider doing the cryptojacking can mine cryptocurrency with little cost to themselves. One estimate is that 220 of the top 1,000 websites in the world are conducting cryptojacking, making a total of US$43,000 over a three week period. This might not be very much but file-sharing sites in particular have been searching for new businesses models in order to support their operations and cryptojacking could grow into a new income source.

The problem for the computer’s owner is that this takes up processor power, making other operations take much longer. Pirate Bay users have complained that their processors have been using up to 85%-95% of their capacity compared with less than 10% for normal operations. This can be accompanied by a large battery drain or resource-use overload.

Cryptocurrency mining on websites honestly does promise great possibilities. But these could be lost if abusive practices continue.

Why exactly is it so promising? Experts presently say that only sites with really huge audiences can make even somewhat substantial money on cryptomining. However, it is those same websites with huge audiences that are making sufficient money from their current ad programs.

How do you avoid being cryptojacked?

Coinhive strongly advises the websites that deploy it that they should inform users they are being cryptojacked. But it’s common for the code to run without users realizing it, and without a way to opt out of it. If you want to prevent your computer from being cryptojacked you need a software tool which checks the code as it runs such as an ad-blocker. Many antivirus applications will also catch an active cryptomining script as well.

All of the current web browsers are now working on add-ons that will block the cryptomining script. The new Opera 50 even has an adblocker and cryptomining blocker built in, so you don’t need an add-on.

And if you feel your computer slowing to a crawl, simply open your Task Manager, then click the Performance Tab. If you see your resources or your memory graph pushing at 80% to 100%, chances are a cryptomining script has taken control in the background and is using your computer to mine without your permission.

Most would agree that any alternative to advertising is a good thing. Ads annoy, so more and more people use ad blockers and simply do not see ads. Ads, after all, abuse users’ device resources — the same thing mining is criticized for. But what do we have besides ads, if we want a non-ecommerce website to feed us or at least to feed itself? We know that ideas like paid subscriptions and donations are truly at the end of the list.

So, is cryptomining going to be the next big web nuisance? Maybe so, but if the practice grows, just like any other malware, we need to be vigilant and careful online.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!


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