from the who-knew? dept
So if you haven’t noticed, the entire cryptocurrency mining thing has become a bit of an absurd stage play over the last few months. From gamers being unable to buy graphics cards thanks to miners hoping to cash in on soaring valuations, to hackers using malware to covertly infect websites with cryptocurrency miners that use visitors’ CPU cycles without their knowledge or consent. As an additional layer of intrigue, some websites have also begun using such miners as an alternative to traditional advertising, though several have already done so without apparently deeming it necessary to inform visitors.
At the heart of a lot of this drama is crypotcurreny mining software company Coinhive, whose software is popping up in both malware-based and above board efforts to cash in on the cryptocurrency mining craze. Coinhive specifically focuses on using site visitor CPU cycles to help mine Monero. The company’s website insists that their product can help websites craft “an ad-free experience, in-game currency or whatever incentives you can come up with.” The company says its project has already resulted in the mining of several million dollars worth of Monero (depending on what Monero’s worth any given day).
The folks behind the company told Motherboard this week they were blindsided by the way their software has quickly been adopted by both non-transparent websites, and malware authors looking to make some additional money:
“We were quite overwhelmed by the extremely fast adoption,? a member of the Coinhive team told Motherboard in an email. ?In hindsight, we were also quite naive in our assumptions on how the miner would be used. We thought most sites would use it openly, letting their users decide to run it for some goodies, as we did with our test implementation on pr0gramm.com before the launch. Which is not at all what happened in the first few days with Coinhive.”
You developed a technology with the capability of covertly hijacking a user’s CPU cycles to make additional money, sold it to an industry with longstanding problems with both transparency and self defeating practices during an era where everything but the kitchen sink is hackable, and you’re honestly surprised it’s being abused? While it’s obvious the malware itself isn’t Coinhive’s fault, this seems like either a notable lack of foresight, or a dash of disingenuous denial.
One team member attempted to downplay the scope of the problem, hoping nobody would notice the new reports this week indicating that over 4,000 UK and U.S. websites have been compromised by malware that embeds the Coinhive software:
“‘Cryptojacking? will probably be here to stay for a while. At least until the rising difficulty in the Monero network (and others) makes it impracticable or Browser vendors somehow block CPU heavy websites,? the Coinhive team member said. They caveated that reports of malicious Coinhive use ?have slowed down tremendously, as ?hackers? realize there’s not much to gain with our service.”
Yes, not much to gain outside of, well, making money off of countless IT and server admins who don’t realize this is even a threat yet in hundreds of countries around the world. It’s worth noting that some in the security community have accused Coinhive of being complicit because they take a 30% cut of all of the cryptocurrency mining that occurs with their product, regardless of whether it’s via malware implementations:
— Bad Packets Report (@bad_packets) February 11, 2018
As such there’s little motivation on their end to thwart the trend of poorly implemented or downright hostile applications of the outfit’s product, and it’s not quite the kind of company journalism funding revolutions should probably be built upon. One anonymous Coinhive developer half-jokingly told Motherboard the company was doing websites a service by forcing them to be more aware of sloppy code or outdated server configurations:
“Food for thought; and we only mean this half serious: embedded miners in compromised websites are usually detected way sooner than other malicious browser scripts. Website owners recognize the breach and are finally forced to update their shitty WordPress installations.”
Again, poor, non-transparent implementation of Coinhive’s product by legitimate websites isn’t necessarily Coinhive’s fault. Nor is malware authors embedding Coinhive into their own, more malicious work. But Coinhive’s lack of foresight and casual response to some fairly major issues–as well as the fact it’s taking a cut of malware implementations–would seemingly open the door to other, similar companies which may be eager to elbow in on Coinhive’s success with a bit more foresight and a dash more professionalism.