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Your personal computer may be secretly mining cryptocurrencies under your nose, without your knowledge and without you taking any profits from this. 2017 was the year when we started to hear more and more instances of malware containing cryptocurrency-mining software, making stealing your computer or laptop’s processing power as easy as visiting a site.


What is mining?

Cryptocurrencies are backed by a system of miners, who race to solve computing problems in exchange for rewards in the form of small amounts of currency. For this you need a very large amount of computing power. Buying those computers is very expensive, also they consume a huge amount of electricity to keep them running. That’s why most profitable mining companies have access to cheap energy.

In the beginning, every currency has a low difficulty threshold, but as time passes it gets higher and higher, needing even more processing power. In time GPU-based mining has proven to be drastically faster and more efficient than CPU-based mining.

This has already affected the prices of many popular graphics cards, driving them dramatically up. So is CPU mining dead? I guess not, especially if you can get the power for “free”.


Cryptocurrency mining software is exploiting the PCs and smartphones of visitors of sites

Most sites can feel the continuing collapse of the online advertising revenues. Some are turning to alternative and viable methods of getting revenue like cryptocurrency mining. The sites of Showtime and The Pirate Bay are some of the big names discovered to be sending mining code to users. Since then they have made statements on the subject.

But instead of GPU-based mining, there’s a service that works with JavaScript to do CPU-based mining. One of the most popular tools being used is Coinhive, which mines Monero (XMR). Since the incident CoinHive have made their position clear, that they are against unauthorized use of their software and usage of other people’s CPU without consent. But probably this will not be the last time we hear about this sorts of things happening.

Software like this can be loaded to a website by hackers or by the site’s owner intentionally to generate more revenue. Some advertisements or files may also be infected with mining malware and can make a connection with your computer if you click on them or try to open them. The mining software is invisible on a surface level to the visitors. If you leave the site or close the tab the mining should stop. You can always check if your CPU is being used.


Check your CPU usage

Your CPU speed determines how fast your PC performs tasks or processes information. Thanks to all devices being multi-core, CPU doesn’t matter as much as it used to. But still you should keep a close eye on your CPU’s performance, when trying new programs or games to see if your computer can handle it.

When you visit a website there should not be any big CPU usage spikes. There is no standard for CPU usage because the performance of people’s devices and the processing power needed by some programs vary so much. No website should use more than 50% of you CPU or overheat your laptop. If it does, then this site might be mining cryptocurrencies with your help. If your CPU usage drops by a lot when you leave the site, this is a good indicator of what is going on.

You can easily access and see your computer’s CPU and your cores by going to “Control Panel” and then click “System”. There you will find basic information about your computers performance. You can also check your CPU in “Task Manager”.


Be safe out there

It’s just as easy to block mining as it is to block ads. The software can be blocked by disabling JavaScript on the sites you suspect or have no trust in. Another way to block cryptocurrency-mining software is by using addblockers. Some add-blocking softwares will scan the site for malicious software and will alert you if such are found.

In my opinion this kind of revenue collecting is a viable and legit way of replacing advertisement. Ads are annoying as they steal your time and attention, but are vitally important for the life of the website. Revenue is needed to keep sites running and some people will prefer to give a part of their CPU usage, instead of losing 30 seconds to watch an add or some pop-up ad. But sites need to be upfront with it and not hide it. There should be some type of disclosure to the site’s visitors so they don’t feel used and can give their consent.

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