Security

Here's why Apple is banning cryptocurrency mining on iPhones and iPads

Apple has joined Google, Facebook and many other tech giants in banning stealthy cryptojackers from secretly using your device.

Despite its continued popularity, cryptocurrency continues to have a rough 2018, with multiple websites and platforms banning ads and apps that secretly use your device to mine for a variety of cryptocurrencies.

Apple quietly updated its App Store review guidelines, banning apps from running "unrelated background processes, such as cryptocurrency mining."

"Apps may facilitate virtual currency storage, provided they are offered by developers enrolled as an organization. In addition, apps may not mine directly for cryptocurrencies, unless the mining is performed in the cloud or otherwise off-device," the new rules say, adding that any apps offering initial coin offerings (ICOs) must "originate from established banks, securities firms, futures commission merchants, or other approved financial institutions."

Developers are still allowed to create apps that run cryptocurrency trades but they cannot "offer currency for completing tasks, such as downloading other apps, encouraging other users to download, posting to social networks."

SEE: Cybersecurity in 2018: A roundup of predictions (Tech Pro Research)

As noted by Ars Technica, one of the reasons for the ban may be to keep the miners from depleting a user's battery life while running in the background. Apple has put a heavy focus on iPhone battery life lately, with iOS 12 offering even more insight into battery use.

Another reason could be the controversial nature of cryptocurrencies in general.

Cryptocurrencies were largely unregulated until last year, when the SEC began to sniff around following a number of obvious scams that cost investors millions. They took particular aim at ICOs, and warned investors that these cryptocurrency marketplaces were not regulated by the SEC.

The SEC shut down PlexCoin in December, calling it a "a full-fledged cyber scam" and released a statement in March reminding investors that while cryptocurrency is a vital source of innovation, it needs to be scrutinized more closely because the SEC has little regulatory power over them.

"The SEC staff has concerns that many online trading platforms appear to investors as SEC-registered and regulated marketplaces when they are not. Many platforms refer to themselves as 'exchanges' which can give the misimpression to investors that they are regulated or meet the regulatory standards of a national securities exchange," they said in a March 7 press release. "Although some of these platforms claim to use strict standards to pick only high-quality digital assets to trade, the SEC does not review these standards or the digital assets that the platforms select, and the so-called standards should not be equated to the listing standards of national securities exchanges."

Days after the statement, co-director of the SEC's Enforcement Division, Stephanie Avakian, announced that dozens of cryptocurrencies were under investigation. In January, Facebook banned all ads promoting cryptocurrencies and Google did the same in June 2018. Google also banned cryptocurrency mining extensions on the Chrome web store, which had been rife with crypto apps that plagued users by mining coins secretly and selling their data.

Google found that despite their rules allowing cryptomining as long as users were informed, "approximately 90% of all extensions with mining scripts that developers have attempted to upload to Chrome Web Store have failed to comply." Users also pilloried YouTube for pages overrun by crytojacking mining code.

LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, and Snapchat have all banned ads featuring ICOs and more continue to look for ways to stop cryptojacking, which is ruining devices and jacking up energy bills. In November, a researcher found nearly 2,500 websites running some form of cryptojacking software designed to use your device to mine for a variety of coins‚but typically the cryptocurrency Monero.

Apps on iPhones, iPads, and MacOS found in the App Store are not allowed to use a device's processor to mine for cryptocurrency. Apple made security a key facet of their Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) presentation, highlighting a new feature called 'Intelligent Tracking Prevention' that is designed to stop websites from monitoring you as you browse the web.

Apple dealt with an issue earlier this year involving the Calendar 2 app, which was found to have been using people's devices to mine for Monero. One user reported the app using 200% of their device's CPU.

Critics have been divided on whether the constant stream of bad news about cryptocurrency has affected their price on the market. The price of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin all fell in March after news about potential SEC investigations broke and Google, as well as Facebook, announced their bans. But some say the prices have not fluctuated much and the scrutiny may help the more established cryptocurrencies over any new offerings.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:
  • Apps on iPhones, iPads, and MacOS found in the App Store are not allowed to use a device's processor to mine for cryptocurrency.
  • The move comes after Facebook banned ads mining for cryptocurrency in January and Google banned ads and apps for it in March.

Also see

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Image: CNET

About Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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