Salon Adds Cryptocurrency Malware — On Purpose

If you’re using an ad blocker, the site will monetize your visit anyway by letting cryptominers hijack your computer. But at least they’re telling you?

We recently learned that Bitcoin-like cryptocurrency miners have been inserting secret JavaScript into ads on sites like YouTube to hijack your computer processing system and hog your memory with blockchain transactions. In the days since that story broke, one website has decided to double down on that strategy, and is completely allowing the practice of “cryptojacking” with their full blessing.

Salon announced today that anyone using an ad blocker would have their operating system compromised for cryptocurrency mining. This “cryptomining” is the method of using complex mathematical computations to scour for more coins, and it takes a great deal of computer processing capacity. Since tech bros in the Bitcoin racket have zero ethics or social responsibility, they would rather hijack your computer than invest in their own extra processing resources.

We should note again that Salon says they’re only doing this to users who are using ad blockers on their web browser. But we should also note that the cryptocurrency sector is not exactly known for its honesty or ethics.   

“We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation,” Salon says in an FAQ on the cryptocurrency hijacking that they’ve now welcomed onto their site. “We’ll start by applying your processing power to mine cryptocurrencies to recoup lost ad revenue when you use an ad blocker.  We plan to further use any learnings from this to help support the evolution and growth of blockchain technology and digital currencies.”

Salon’s claim of a “a small percentage of your spare processing power” seem highly suspicious when the FAQ also includes the item “Why are my fans turning on?”

Cyberscoop has done some research on that “small percentage,” and found it not so small. “Any time you visit Salon from now on, your CPU will be used to mine cryptocurrency on their behalf,” writes Cyberscoop’s Patrick Howell O’Neill. “Your processor will heat up as more than half of your CPU power is dedicated to the task while the computer’s fans fire up to keep the temperature under control.”

(Salon did not respond for comment on how much CPU power is used. We will update this article with any response.)

It’s beginning to surface that these exponentially growing energy needs make cryptocurrency a disaster for the environment. “Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day,” Eric Holtaus writes at Grist. “And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers combined.”

Maybe we’re not being fair to the all the world-changing potential of this cryptomining. But Salon is using the notoriously sketchy Coinhive service (sketchy because it can be run without a user’s consent or knowledge) to mine the coin Monero (sketchy because it is the preferred cryptocurrency of criminals thanks to its anonymity.)

We have to be skeptical about the environmental, ethical, and consumer protection ramifications of bitcoin mining, because the cryptocurrency industry itself is not. Or if they are, they sure are being cryptic about it.

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