Sunday October 08, 2017

Your PC may be making someone else rich

Some websites are using a plugin to "borrrow" visitors' CPUs to mine for cryptocurrency.

Some websites are using a plugin to "borrrow" visitors' CPUs to mine for cryptocurrency.

Listen 7:36

Your computer could be making somebody else rich as you browse the internet - and you'd likely have no idea.

And we're not talking about banner ads or click-baitey links. Some websites have acknowledged using a plug-in or bot that harnesses a small amount of your computer's central processing unit, or CPU, to mine cryptocurrency.

Joon Ian Wong, a writer for the online journal, Quartz, says these plugins are being tried because millions of people are now using ad blockers.


Joon Ian Wong (Twitter)

With ad revenue harder to get, notorious bittorrent site The Pirate Bay ended up using visitors' computers to mine for Monero, a type of cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin.

The cable channel Showtime was caught doing the exact same thing on its website, although they haven't said if that was a result of being hacked or not.

Mining for bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency isn't quite like mining for gold, but it is similar in concept.

A cryptocurrency mine is essentially a series of complicated math problems. These problems take a long time and a huge amount of computing power to solve. And that can be expensive to maintain.

So now, instead of doing all that computing in one place, there's software that can distribute that math problem over hundreds, if not thousands, of PCs.

It means your computer could be used as a tiny little miner in a much bigger workforce digging up digital gold for someone else, Joon says.

Now when users found out their computers were secretly being used to mine for money, they weren't very happy - and most people wouldn't be. But in reality, Joon says, it's not really a black-and-white issue.

Most people wouldn't notice the extra drain on their processors, and it could be an effective way for sites like Wikipedia, for example, to raise money.