CoinHive, Monero and the Controversial Rise of Cryptojacking

If your computer has been running slower than normal recently, you might have been the victim of cryptojacking, a controversial new practice in which hackers and other unauthorized individuals tap into your computer’s processing power in order to mine for cryptocurrencies. The most highly-publicized cases have been those involving the company Coinhive and the Monero cryptocurrency. The logic, from the perspective of hackers, is simple: the more computers they can use to mine these near-mythical cryptocoins, the more money they can make.

How cryptojacking works

In many ways, cryptojacking works similar to other malware that infects your computer. In the case of Coinhive, the culprit is JavaScript code that starts to run right within your web browser. This mining script doesn’t ask for your permission, and it doesn’t let you know you that it has gone to work secretly mining for the cryptocurrency Monero using your computer’s processing power.

In order to circumvent ad blockers and other forms of malware blockers, hackers sometimes invent creative new ways to create new windows and tabs right on your computer. They are, in essence, mining for cryptocurrency right in your browser window as you’re going about your daily business of checking emails and leaving comments on Facebook.

In one highly publicized case, a Starbucks customer in Buenos Aires found that the global coffee giant was inadvertently using its users’ computers in at least one Starbucks store to mine for the cryptocurrency Monero. Every time a new user connected to the store’s Wi-Fi network, Coinhive malware was loaded to the customer’s computer, and it was time to go to work mining for the cryptocurrency Monero while the customer was leisurely using the web and enjoying a nice latte.

The cryptocurrency bubble

The practice of cryptojacking is tied directly to the ballooning valuations for the world’s top cryptocurrencies. In case you haven’t checked recently, Bitcoin has exploded in value to nearly $16,000 for a single Bitcoin. And now other rival currencies with funny-sounding names – such as Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero and Ripple – are following in the path of Bitcoin, making money for users overnight.

Invest in even a fractional share of Bitcoin or Monero, and you could see your holdings increase in value by thousands of dollars overnight. There are even stories of Bitcoin millionaires being made almost overnight, based on stories of people scooping up Bitcoin when it was worth next to nothing and now selling a single coin for more than $10,000. People are taking out second mortgages on their homes, hopeful of cashing in what some people are referring to as a new type of “tulip mania.” As long as you can find someone willing to pay more for Bitcoin or Monero than you did, the thinking goes, you have a clear path to making serious money.

So you can see why cryptojacking has taken off. The process of mining for Bitcoins (or any other cryptocurrency) requires a tremendous amount of computing resources, and that’s why it’s essential to take over other users’ computers without their knowledge. The hackers want access to your computing power – the raw processing potential of your machine – and not to any data, information or secrets on your machine. And they certainly don’t want to share in any mining rewards.

Coinhive makes it easy for anyone to mine for Monero

There’s one more element involved here that has helped to create a “perfect storm” around cryptojacking, and that’s the revenue problems being faced by website operators. As online advertising revenue dries up, that has left websites looking for viable ways to make up the shortfall. One alternative, it appears, is cryptocurrency mining. Why not let your fans, users, and customers do all the hard work of mining for these coins? You can then walk away with any incremental revenue gained by mining cryptocurrency.

 


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