What's All the Buzz About CoinHive?

Category: Finance

A new way to monetize “free” digital content has popped up -- secretly using visitors’ CPUs to mine cryptocurrency while they visit pages in the darker corners of the Web. But recently, this questionable moneymaking scheme has been found on mainstream sites such as Showtime and Politifact, property of the staid Washington Post. Here's what you need to know…

A New Way To Pay For Digital Content

You've probably heard of Bitcoin, the encrypted digital currency that has gained popularity over the past few years. (See my article Is it Time to Invest In Bitcoin?) The success of Bitcoin has spawned other cryptocurrency projects, along with some questionable ways of cashing in.

Until recently, "miners" of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have tried using dedicated computers, even full-scale data centers to speed up the process of generating digital coins that can be traded for real money. But all those computers, and the power needed to run them, are expensive. So now there's a move to pass along those costs to you.

The scheme relies on a cryptocurrency “mining” program called CoinHive and a bit of Javascript code embedded in a website’s pages. CoinHive does the computations that earn fractions of Monero cryptocurrency for a website’s owner. But instead of using the website owner’s processor, CoinHive uses site visitors’ processors for as long as each of them is on the site. For the site owner, it’s free money; for the visitor, it’s “free” content.

Coinhive Mining - Pro and Con

However, electricity and CPUs cost money, and CoinHive uses up both. The electricity and CPU wear-and-tear don’t amount to much for any individual user. CoinHive could, in theory, be an acceptable alternative to the annoyances and security risks of advertisements. But greed generally makes CoinHive a major pain in the user’s computer.

When CoinHive is configured to use all available CPU resources - thereby making the most Monero during a visit to the site - a visitor’s device will slow to a painful crawl, or even lock up tight. In the latter case, only a reboot will break the device free. Adding insult to this injury, many CoinHive sites don’t inform visitors that their devices are being used in this way.

Can Mining Replace Online Ads?

Unfortunately, CoinHive-type mining will never replace revenue from ads; the amount earned from the average visit is microscopic, on the order of $0.04 for every 100 minutes that visitors spend viewing a site’s pages. Mainstream sites are not going to alienate their audiences for that kind of pocket change. But hackers are infecting an ever-increasing number of sites with the Javascript code that powers these vampiric miners, and that’s a problem.

CoinHive has already been neutralized by most major anti-malware suites; it’s a simple matter of blocking attempted connections to coinhive.com. Generalized solutions that block detected miners based upon their behavior can’t be far off. Chrome users have their choice of several “miner blocker” extensions, the most popular and highly rated of which is AntiMiner. Firefox users have a selection of miner-blocking addons, too.

The advertising revenue that has supported the existence of free, high-quality websites like this one is shrinking. So CoinHive and its ilk raise an important question: if not ads, and if not cryptocurrency mining, how are users going to support the free content and apps that they devour so eagerly?

Surprisingly, the answer may be “subscriptions” in large part. Digital consumers have become accustomed to paying by the month for phone service, television, Netflix, Hulu, and many other types of content-delivery services. Major news publishers are seeing dramatic surges in subscriptions to digital and print editions. Most startling of all is that Millennials are leading this subscription trend.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "What's All the Buzz About CoinHive?"

Posted by:

Greg
24 Oct 2017

I truly believe that there is "No Free Lunch" in the long run. The problems that I have run into when I feel I should be paying are twofold:
1- I do NOT subscribe to PayPal or the like and have no way of securely paying without compromising my identity info or credit card. A long time ago I thought that a VERY trusted entity could assume the role of intermediary that would make payments on my behalf for a tiny fee. There would be no judgemental decisions or withholding of funds.
2- The sites that ask for "donations" e.g. news sites ask for an amount that exceeds their value. Typically, asking for an exaggerated amount because so few pay. If EVERYONE was charged, say $20 a month,there would be plenty of cash to go around. This could be spread over all the sites I ( we ) visited, say based on time spent viewing and/or amount downloaded.

VERY recently, I became aware of BLOCKCHAIN and this might be an good application of this concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r43LhSUUGTQ


Posted by:

Matt
24 Oct 2017

We've found that CoinHive does not always stop when the site has been left (especially with Chrome users, which allows the 'job' to continue even after closing Chrome).
Further, removing CoinHive is definitely not for the novice user...
Bottom line, is we do NOT like CoinHive, and have not found any user that knowingly agreed to it's use.


Posted by:

Sarah L
24 Oct 2017

What a nasty way to make money! I will avoid Politifact for sure. Thanks for telling me about these unsuspected ways to slow up my computer.


Posted by:

Maique
24 Oct 2017

Hmmm...

AntiMiner "requires your permission to:
Access your data for all websites
Access browser tabs"

to be added to FireFox. That seems like opening a big door very widely to AntiMiner ... IS AntiMiner to be trusted with such access? After all, Equifax was trusted with access to 'our' data too.

Once burned, twice cautious, etc., etc., etc..


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