Cryptocurrency Mining Ads On YouTube Hijack Viewers’ Computers

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Google is dealing with some negative PR as media outlets around the web report cryptocurrency mining ads that utilize users’ computing power without permission to mine Monero through normal looking advertisements.

Cryptocurrency Mining Ads

According to a number of reports gathered from Japan, France, Taiwan, Italy, and Spain that were obtained by Ars Technica, antivirus programs are picking up on cryptocurrency mining ads on YouTube that are using computer power without permission. The cryptocurrency mining ads are run using Javascript, so they operate under the radar while masquerading as a normal promotion. The majority of the ads seem to be mining Monero, and considering the huge amount of traffic, advertisers may be making a good amount of money from this hidden code. Monero isn’t an incredibly profitable currency on its own, but it can be converted relatively easily to Bitcoin – the current king of cryptocurrency despite the recent crash. At this time, YouTube hasn’t released a statement regarding the controversy, but this sort of occurrence is sure to cause an issue if Google doesn’t move quickly to address the problem.

Most of the information regarding the cryptocurrency mining ads was collected by security firm TrendMicro, although various antivirus programs like Avast also caught the javascript mining program.

Although the cryptocurrency mining ads operate in secret and seem quite sophisticated, they’re actually build off of a public javascript code called Coinhive. When the script is run, Coinhive receives 30% of the profits with the rest of the mining going to the advertiser. There have been cases without the use of Coinhive where hackers developed their own version of cryptocurrency mining ads, but these are far less common. Those who developed their own programs, however, have access to any sort of currency they’d like to mine rather than being limited to Monero.

It’s not easy for the average user to tell whether the cryptocurrency mining ads are actually running on their PC, but the extra computing power necessitated by this involuntary form of mining will lead to computers suddenly slowing down or spikes in CPU and GPU usage.

Advertising Troubles

This controversy is just the latest in several months of advertising disasters for YouTube. With a desire to appeal to more mainstream advertisers, YouTube has been demonetizing videos of YouTubers it deems non-family-friendly – seemingly without rhyme or reason. This has drawn a lot of ire from the content creators, and advertisers still don’t seem happy with the way their ads are being placed. With a recent video from rising YouTube star showing a hanging suicide victim still monetized while seemingly harmless videos on LGBT issues having their ads removed, many feel that YouTube’s automated system for determining ad placement is seriously flawed.

The fact that nefarious advertisers are resorting to putting up cryptocurrency mining ads reinforces the idea that the virtual currency scene continues to thrive. Despite recent downturns at the beginning of the year after record highs in December, the majority of currencies are still ahead of where they were a year ago and will likely continue to grow.

A Growing Market

Cryptocurrency mining is the primary way in which new currency is added to the market, and it takes a serious amount of computing power in order to mine each coin. NVIDIA and AMD are facing product shortages as cryptocurrency miners snatch up all the high-end GPUs, leaving gamers who would normally be the customers without access to their favorite cards.

Until mining becomes less profitable, we’ll probably still see instances of cryptocurrency mining ads around the web. YouTube will likely crack down on these advertisements as soon as they find them, but the fact remains that it’s difficult to detect unless you’re looking for it. While a lot of antivirus software will detect the Javascript cryptocurrency mining ad, there is a large user base that is probably dealing with slower computers as they unwittingly line the pockets of advertisers taking advantage of YouTube’s incredible traffic.

Until we get a statement from YouTube saying what exactly they’re doing in order to address these issues, keep an eye on your computer’s speed and capabilities. If you’re noticing an unusually slow operation, consider downloading an antivirus program to see whether you’re being affected by these secret cryptocurrency mining ads.

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