Bitcoin’s exponential rise last year attracted millions of eyeballs, some with malicious intent. Indeed, you computer might have been already “cryptojacked” by your favorite sites to mine for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies without your knowledge.
Nothing is free on the Internet! Websites and apps that do not charge for their services collect your data or bombard you with ads. Today, some sites have found a new way to make money on your back: they use your computer to generate virtual currencies.
Several video streaming sites and the Pirate Bay file-sharing network have allegedly “cryptojacked” their users’ computers to mine bitcoin without the user’s knowledge or agreement. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin are not created by a central bank like ordinary currencies but are generated or “extracted” by computers solving complex equations. “Cryptojackeing” involves using someone’s computer without their knowledge, for a few seconds, to generate cryptocurrency.
In the case of bitcoin, extraction requires specialized equipment and consumes a lot of energy. For example, every bitcoin transaction consumes the energy needed to boil about 36,000 pots of water. In one year, the entire Bitcoin mining network consumes more energy than a country the size of Ireland!
Bitcoin is not the only virtual currency on the market. One of the most successful is Monero, which creates confidentiality in transactions (which Bitcoin does not do). Currently, no specialized hardware is needed, so anyone with a computer can exploit it.
“Mining” often becomes a competition between computers. The fastest is rewarded with money. With Moreno and other similar crypto-currencies, a group of computers can work together and share the reward if they win the competition. This allows individual computers to work on a small part of the mining task. The greater the number of machines, the more chances of winning the reward.
This means that the website or Internet service provider that performs cryptojacking can operate cryptocurrency cheaply. According to some estimates, 220 of the world’s 1,000 most visited websites are cryptojacking — that’s a total of $57,000 a month. This number may seem weak, but file-sharing sites in particular are looking for new models to support their operations: cryptojacking may well become a new source of revenue.
The problem for the computer’s owner, however, is that this process uses the power of your processor, making other operations slower. Pirate Bay users have complained that their processors use up to 85% of their capacity, compared with less than 10% for normal operations. Cryptojacking can also drain the computer’s battery much faster. Pirate Bay has since said that this high CPU usage was a bug and that the site would normally use between 20% and 30% of the processing power.
Coinhive strongly advises websites using its software to inform users that they are being cryptojacked. But it is common for the code to run without users realizing it and without being able to disable it. If you want to prevent your computer from being cryptojacked, you need software that checks for such codes, such as an ad blocker.
You might think, however, that allowing a site to use a little of the processing power of your computer is less painful than being bombarded with ads.
Whatever you do, you will probably end up paying for free services, one way or another.