Welcome to 2022: Mine Crypto with your Antivirus

Cryptocurrency is far from the pipe dream that naysayers claimed a few short years ago. It’s also more controversial than ever, with a current total of 8 countries banning domestic cryptocurrency transactions: China, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Bangladesh.

China made headlines not long ago by banning crypto mining altogether, forcing their domestic miners (accounting for a staggering 65%75% of the global market at its peak) to close down shop. Countries like the US were only too eager to fill the vaccum – but sources show that underground crypto mining is still alive and well in China (you know what isn’t?).

  1. Incoming Antivirus Feature: Crypto Mining
  2. Accessibility as Strength: Only One Click Away
  3. The Rise of Crypto Mining Scam Apps
  4. Viable or not?

Incoming Antivirus Feature: Crypto Mining

Image source: NortonLifeLock

Now, you too can become a crypto miner without any of the hassle of researching power consumption, hardware requirements or net profit: thanks to Norton Crypto. That’s right, Norton Antivirus now ships with a built-in mining functionality for Ethereum (with its own wallet).

The mining feature is opt-in and off by default. Once Norton Crypto is turned on a crypto wallet is set up for you. It then begins to use your GPU (6GB memory) to mine Ethereum. Earnings are deposited periodically, and can be withdrawn to Coinbase once a minimum threshold is reached.

OS & Hardware requirements to run Norton Crypto
Source: Norton Support

The bad news? Norton’s miner charges a whopping 15% pool fee, while typical Ethereum miner pools charge 1-2% (with a smaller additional fee for the mining software developer).

Norton’s not the only antivirus software taking on this clandestine endeavour: Avira also includes an Ethereum miner in their latest antivirus release. Avira was founded in 2006 in Germany but was acquired in January 2021 by NorthonLifeLock Inc. – the same company that owns Norton.

I’m using Avast antivirus: I expect that it’ll be the next antivirus to receive an Ethereum miner. August 2021 a merger was announced between NortonLifeLock – once finalised, it will be the third largest acquisition ever in the cybersecurity industry. Keeping in mind Avast owns AVG, which will also be added to NortonLifeLock’s list of AV products.

Accessibility as Strength: Only One Click Away

With a security giant like NortonLifeLock opening the door with such a bold introduction of crypto mining, it’s hard to see others not following suit.

This significant move is the first to make crypto mining so accessible simply in its inclusion of an antivirus, a piece of software virtually on every computer.

Considering the fact that NortonLifeLock now comprises at least 25% global market share (Norton, Avira, Avast, AVG), the company stands to profit immensely from people mining crypto for the first time using their software.

The most recent stats I could find. 2021 trends are behind industry report paywalls.
Image Source: Statistica

And while the 15% mining pool fee may appear ludicrous to those with a deeper understanding of crypto mining, the option to simply press a button and begin mining will likely pique curiosity.

The Rise of Crypto Mining Scam Apps

The rise of cryptocurrency in the last few years has also populated app stores with various scam apps. In August 2021 antivirus vendor Lookout released findings identifying over 170 Android apps offering ‘mining services’ turning out to be complete scams. These apps offered paid ‘upgrades’ to their ‘mining capability’, to which unsuspecting victims would throw money at, with no understanding of how mining works.

“Based on our analysis, they scammed more than 93,000 people and stole at least $350,000 between users paying for apps and buying additional fake upgrades and services,”

Lookout, “Dozens of Android Cryptocurrency Mining Apps Turn Out to Be Scams”
PCMag article
Image source: News18

25 of the programs were readily available on the Google Play Store, with the rest being circulated on third-party app stores. These apps likely passed Google’s security vetting process as they didn’t contain any malicious code.

In fact, these apps were entirely bogus apps doing nothing at all: Lookout’s findings revealed that in one app called “BTC Cash”, the displayed “GHash/sec” (the mining rate) is a counter that resets each time it counts to ten.

Image Credit: Lookout via PC Mag

Viable or not?

In a landscape where so many have fallen victim to sus scam apps, to be able to mine using an antivirus software (with the reputation of Norton and Avira) becomes a much more attractive prospect. Who better to trust than the companies you already trust to protect the security of your devices?

The cost of the accessibility is quantifiable – and very steep. While the argument can be made that the move is predatory, it does have the potential to do good. It’s better a high pool fee than to be scammed completely out of money. Who knows, it might even be an opportunity for those curious to learn more about cryptocurrency and how it works.

But could a profit actually be made from it?

The Verge attempted to answer this question, measuring electricity consumption on a Kill-A-Watt power meter. The results were that they completely broke even for what was earned vs the cost of power used. One night of mining on an RTX 3060 Ti net $0.66USD worth of Ethereum and cost $0.66USD in off-peak electricity. All of the profit went to Norton (unsurprisingly).

Image source: The Verge

On top of the mining fee, a transaction fee is charged by the Ethereum network when transferring earnings to Coinbase. As it stands, there haven’t been any specific mining setups successfully earning a profit using Norton’s antivirus.

If Avast receives its own Ethereum miner I plan to test and experiment with it for a future article. I’ll also reach out to my miner friend Foong for his thoughts and insights on hash rate comparisons and viability.

Published by Tech Neck Nick

I'm a cybersecurity major postgrad student from Sydney, Australia. Support my fight against Writer's Block.

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