It seems malicious actors will find a way to infiltrate a user’s system, no matter what. This is evident when one considers the allegations that bitcoin mining on unsuspecting users’ PCs is increasingly prevalent.

A new report released by anti-malware software company Malwarebytes addressed this issue. It found that a number of Windows-based software applications are now mining small amounts of bitcoin on many machines, unbeknownst to their users.

The posts refers to “Potentially Unwanted Programs” (also known as ‘PUPs’), which are applications such as browser toolbars and search programs. Many of these display advertising and slow computers to an excruciatingly slow speed.

Many of these PUPs are inadvertently downloaded by users who are trying to install other programs. Often, users don’t realise that the other programs are being put on their PCs during the install process.

Many end user license agreements (EULAs) allow for subsidiary programs to be installed. In fact, Malwarebytes has found that some EULAs include an explicit right for software to perform functions that sound suspiciously like virtual currency mining activities:

“As part of downloading a Mutual Public, your computer may do mathematical calculations for our affiliated networks to confirm transactions and increase security. Any rewards or fees collected by WBT or our affiliates are the sole property of WBT and our affiliates.”

The phrase “confirm transactions” can be generally attributed to the basic function of a bitcoin miner.

Malicious programs steal data from users, often sending it back to a source or a peer-to-peer network of ‘zombie computers’ known as botnets.

Now, it appears regular computers are being used to mine small amounts of bitcoin, which cannot be much per machine given that mining difficulty keeps increasing, but it could add up as bitcoin’s price has skyrocketed.

Miner's revenue, which is number of bitcoins mined per day plus transaction fees times the market price has increased. Source: Blockchain.infoMiner’s revenue, which is number of bitcoins mined per day plus transaction fees times the market price has increased. Source: Blockchain.info

The New Jersey Attorney General’s office recently fined a company called E-Sports Entertainment $1m after it admitted it had experimented with injecting bitcoin mining code into its users’ computers.

There are a few ways to remove these programs manually. One is to go through a computer’s programs list and uninstall anything that sounds unfamiliar.

Software like Malwarebytes is free to download and scans for malicious and more subversive programs that do not show themselves in an operating system’s programs list.

If anything else, consulting with an IT professional to make sure a computer is not running unnecessary software can be helpful and more time efficient.

Experts working in the bitcoin space recommend taking simple steps such as; researching programs before downloading; using different passwords for every program and website; plus, utilising tools like password managers.

“Do not reuse your passwords,” said Thomas Kerin, the lead developer behind the open source e-commerce platform BitWasp.

Mining image via Shutterstock

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