Over 500 million people are inadvertently mining cryptocurrencies through their computers after visiting websites that are running background mining software, researchers have discovered.
Research by ad blocking firm AdGuard found 220 popular websites with an aggregated audience of half a billion people use so-called crypto-mining scripts when a user opens their main page.
Visitors to the websites come from all over the world but the worst affected country is the U.S., with 18.7 percent of websites engaged in using in-browser cryptocurrency mining scripts coming from the United States.
The researchers found that bitcoin browser mining is mostly found on websites “with a shady reputation” due to the trouble such sites have with earning revenue through advertising. However, in the future it could become a legitimate and ethical way of making money if the website requests the permission of the visitor first.
“220 sites may not seem like a lot,” the researchers wrote in a blogpost detailing their discovery. “But CoinHive was launched less than one month ago on September 14. The growth has been extremely rapid: from nearly zero to 2.2 percent of Alexa’s top 100,000 websites.
AdGuard estimates that the profit for the websites currently stands at around $43,000. This may not seem like a very high figure considering the number of computers affected, but it is still considerable given the timeframe and the fact it was done at almost zero cost.
The record-high price of bitcoin, which is $5,655 at the time of writing, is an incentive for websites and cyber criminals to profit from cryptocurrency mining software, such as Coinhive and JSEcoin.
What Is Mining?
Cryptocurrencies are either bought at exchanges or generated through mining. Miners use some specific software to solve various math-algorithms (in case of Bitcoins) and are in return rewarded with some cryptocurrencies. Miners also earn cryptocurrency by adding transaction records to the cryptocurrency blockchain.
In case of websites mining cryptocurrency from host’s computer, mining parasitises the user’s CPU, where ads parasitise users’ attention, emotions, bandwidth, and often, their laptop or smartphone battery, and supports an industry of personal data harvesting that is a big headache in itself. The biggest issue with these practices is that they don’t even ask for users’ consent for the same, and hence are unethical.
Recently, the CoinHive team has issued a statement calling on website operators to inform their users about the mining operations and to ask for user permission to do this. Parasite-scripts and unregulated cryptocurrency distribution are the major part of cryptocurrency architecture that makes mining and ICOs hugely suspicious among the governments of various countries and their regulatory bodies.