Homeless in Vancouver: Canadian websites among thousands mining cryptocurrency via users’ computers

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      With the value of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, Monero and Ethereum, going through the roof, a new report by Pixalate (a player in programmatic marketing and online advertising) finds that 5,442 websites have installed a Coinhive JavaScript.

      Coinhive secretly uses visiting computer CPUs to mine for the cryptocurrency Monero, which was worth $191.16, as of December 1.

      Cryptocurrency mining involves using your computer to help perform the computationally intensive task of maintaining the global blockchain “ledger” that records all cryptocurrency transactions—in return for very small rewards of cryptocoin.

      This is not the first time that websites have incorporated the Coinhive code to mine Monero cryptocurrency using a visitor’s processing power—both the Pirate Bay torrent tracking site and the Showtime streaming site were caught doing it in September.

      But now we’re talking over 5,000 websites, not just two.

      Pixalate says that the list of “cryptojacking” websites that are using the Coinhive code includes 13 of the top 1,000 websites and 25 of the top 5,000 sites, as ranked by Alexa.

      My own examination of the complete list shows that in general terms, a lot of the sites offer streaming multimedia content.

      Fully 37.65 percent (2,049) are websites using the .com domain. Second place goes to 312 .net websites (5.73 percent). Third place goes to 209 .ru websites—the same number as have a .co domain, which is assigned to Colombia.

      Even Canadian websites are not saying “please”

      Metro Vancouver's Cazba restaurant seems to be using two cryptojackers.

      As for Canadian websites, boxingcanada.org jumps off the list. This is the web address for Boxing Canada, which describes itself as “the national governing body for the sport of boxing in Canada recognized by the Canadian Olympic Committee”.

      And right in our own backyard, here in Metro Vancouver, the Cazba Restaurant, with one location on Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End and another in North Vancouver, is running two cryptocurrency miners on its website: Coinhive, which is mining for Monero and JSEcoin, which is mining for, well, JSEcoin.

      There are another 30 websites (0.55 percent) on the list with a Canadian .ca domain. All but two of them are Blogger blogspot websites.

      To be fair, neither Boxing Canada nor the the owners of the Cazba Restaurant need to have installed the cryptocurrency mining code on their websites.

      It is entirely possible that a third-party webmaster or host installed the code for their own benefit behind the backs of the owners.

      Taking from people who want something for nothing

      A truism of grifting is that the easiest people to steal from are thieves. Many of the websites looking to make a little extra coin at the expense of their users are offering something for nothing and often something illegal, at that.

      Most of the domain names are undecipherable to me—either alphanumeric salad, or in languages I cannot translate. But 582 website names fall into four unmistakable categories: streaming sites offering mainstream movies, music, pornography and animation (379), cryptocoin sites (127), BitTorrent tracker sites (47) and web proxy sites,which are often used to help mask the use of the first and third category of websites (34).

      The additional virtue of streaming and proxy sites for cryptocurrency mining is how they tend to capture a user’s computers for hours at a time. As I  understand it cryptocurrency mining offers a very low return on a very large investment of time and computing power.

      What it can cost unsuspecting users who run afoul of one of these websites is device performance and lots of electricity—smartphones have poor enough battery life when watching video without the added drain of cryptomining.

      Along with the preponderance of streaming websites, another significant correlation on Pixalate’s list are free Google Blogger websites with “blogspot” in their name—there are 989 of these (18.17 percent).

      Of the other well-known free blogging platforms, there are 29 Tumblr sites and only 3 identifiable WordPress sites: ncerthelp4u.wоrdpress.cоm, donоttrackme.wordpress.cоm, tbfpblоg.wordpress.cоm. (I have changed the coding of the URLs so they do not link to the actual sites.)

      People wishing to avoid this needless drain on their computing resources should investigate getting a adblocker or tracker blocker that can also block JavaScript code execution, such a uBlock Origin, which I’ve been using for several years.

      What the fuss is all about

      All cryptocurrencies are hot right now but none are hotter than Bitcoin.

      The improbable value of one Bitcoin, as of 11:17 a.m. Thursday (December 1), was $13,316.23. This is a threefold increase over two months ago and more than a 13-fold increase for the year. One Bitcoin is now eight times more valuable than an ounce (31.1 grams) of gold, which goes for only about $1,661.44!

      At the moment, the value of all 16.7 million bitcoins in circulation exceeds USD$160 billion (CAD$204.1 billion).

      This places the total value of all bitcoins just above the U.S. market capitalization of General Electric ($157.79 billion) and Boeing ($158.14 billion) and, in fact, it gives the ballooning cryptocurrency a higher valuation than all but the top 30-some publicly traded U.S. companies.

      On the other hand, Bitcoin’s total worth is about about a third more than Canada’s most valuable publicly traded company, the Royal Bank of Canada, which has a U.S. market cap of $115.16 billion.

      The cryptocurrency with a bright future…as a commodity

      Bitcoin’s sharp rise beginning in late 2017 is largely attributable to the announcement, on October 31 that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) planned to begin listing Bitcoin futures sometime in the fourth quarter of 2017. That sometime, we now know, is December 18.

      It makes a lot of sense to think of Bitcoin the way the CME does—as a commodity, rather than a currency.

      Bitcoin is useful for many things. Because it has recognized value but is not controlled by any central authority or government, Bitcoin has become indispensable as a medium of exchange for covertly moving money around. And there is no end to the money in the world that wants moving around quietly.

      Barring some regulatory force majeure, I expect bitcoin to keep gaining, both in value and acceptance. In fact, I’m rooting for it to do so because I too have a little bit of bitcoin.

      Bitcoin panhandling is also a thing now

      I should explain my conflict of interest here. I have been soliciting Bitcoin on the bottom of the About page on my blog since late 2013.

      For the same reasons that it’s good for money laundering a cryptocurrency can be very useful for a homeless person with a laptop but without either a bank account or I.D.

      It has actually only been in the last four months that I have received any sizable donations of the cryptocoin but this (coupled by the rising value) has enabled me to recently get my first brand new (not out of a Dumpster) phone in years—a semi-rugged Samsung Galaxy Xcover 4.

      In the last several weeks I’ve watched my leftover 0.00365091 BTC grow from about $19 to over $35. That’s exciting. It’s almost enough to pay for a month of using the phone!