You may not own any Bitcoin, but that doesn't mean you haven't been caught up in the mania surrounding the cryptocurrency. As the price of Bitcoin continued to hit new highs, some web users noticed that their antivirus software was highlighting specific adverts as Malicious because they contained hidden coin miners, including ads displayed by YouTube.
Currency sus as Bitcoin is digitally 'mined' a process that limits how many coins are in circulation to manage its value. Every time a coin is successfully mined, the effort required to mine the next coin goes up, which means it uses more processing power and electricity.
In this case, malicious adverts were exploiting YouTube visitors' computers to run Mining software, eating up 80% of their processing power, which not only slowed down their PCs but chewed through their electricity. The ads were mining a digital currency similar to Bitcoin called Monero. Experts believe that the perpetrators targeted YouTube because its visitors stay on the site for some time to watch videos, which means the ads are open and able to mine for longer than on other types of site.
Google said it tracked down and removed the offending ads as soon as it was notified of the problem, and will look out for more malicious marketing techniques in the future, but there are fears that such mining tricks will become more common.
How will it affect you?
Although the YouTube ads didn't infect PCs with malware, they could potentially be used for that purpose. If you find that your PC's performance suddenly grinds to a halt while online, look at the ads on the page. Many of the dodgy Mining Ads were for fake antivirus products and other false companies. Closing the browser window should end the attack.
Users were alerted to the problem by their security software, proving once more that antivirus is essential for everyone. It won't stop all attacks, but it certainly helped in this case.
Another way to avoid dodgy ads is to install an ad blocker such as Adblock Plus or uBlock Origin, both of which now block coin miners. Although many of us would be happy to support the free content we read or watch online by letting sites display ads, it's increasingly risky. It's also worth noting that these mining ads were displayed through Google's own DoubleClick ad network. If even Google can't spot malicious marketing on its own site, how will others do any better?
At least Google is making some effort to improve ads. It's latest move is to let users block 'reminder' ads, which turn products or services you've previously looked at online into ads on other sites you visit, effectively following you around the web. We'll soon be able to mute these annoying ads, though only by turning them off one by one.
Web-based mining isn't limited to ads, either. Reports have revealed that some sites run code that mines coins on your PC while you're visiting. If that happens, you'll experience similar symptoms of slow performance and increased strain on your hardware, which you can stop by closing the browser window.
What do we think?
Advertising is already annoying enough without it secretly abusing your system's resources. In a way, though, it's an extension of normal advertising. Those ads that display on every page are a drain on your PC, and while they don't max out your resources the way miners do, they affect your PC's performance and use more electricity.
It's no wonder, then, that between a quarter to a third of Brits use ad blockers. Not only are adverts irritating to look at and annoying when they follow us around the web, they slow performance and can spread malware. Of course, content creators need to get paid, and no better option than advertising has been suggested so far, although some newspapers have made paywalls work for them.
Rather than fighting back against every little abuse of its advertising platform, perhaps Google's engineers could come up with a new way to fund the internet. Google is the web's biggest ad company, however, so don't expect this model to change anytime soon.