How to protect yourself against web miners

While using your browser to mine cryptocurrencies for profit, web miners can chew up power from your computer, says a new report from Kaspersky.

Has your computer or any computer in your business ever been the victim of a web miner? You may not even know the answer as these miners typically operate stealthily. Web mining is considered a type of cyberthreat that runs in your browser to mine cryptocurrencies for profit. The web miners then convert the capacity of your computer or other device into cryptocurrency while your browser is on or even running in the background.

On an individual scale, the amount of energy consumed may be minimal. But on a global or even enterprise level, the energy costs can become high. A report released Wednesday by Kaspersky details the behavior and effects of web mining and offers some tips on how to defend yourself against it.

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Web mining is seen as a threat in part because the quest to mine cryptocurrency usually occurs in the background without the knowledge or consent of the user. Sometimes, however, web miners inform users of the activity and even ask for consent, peddling the practice as a way to pay for the website without showing ads or pushing paid subscriptions. As such, web mining is touted as an innocent activity that doesn't require any money from the user and chews up only a small amount of energy. That may be true for each individual. But "the global impact is surprisingly grim," the report said.

For its report, Kaspersky analyzed the economic and environmental impact of web mining. For 2018, the security provider said it blocked 470 million attempts to download scripts and connect to mining resources on the computers and devices of its customers. In its research, Kaspersky found that web miners could have consumed as much as 18.8 gigawatts of electric power last year, a level equal to the rate of power consumption of Poland.

Further, unless the web mining code was blocked by security software, the amount of energy consumed through web mining could have reached 1,670 megawatt-hours (MWh). Converted into carbon dioxide emissions at the global average International Energy Agency (IEA) levels, this equals around 800 tons of greenhouse gas (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere in 2018. The total electricity fees for this level of energy could have ranged from a few hundred thousand dollars to half a million dollars, according to Kaspersky.

"There are a lot of legal and technical initiatives aimed at minimizing the impact of web mining, and we can see a significant decrease in activity in 2019," Alexey Malanov, security researcher at Kaspersky, said in a press release. "However, as long as there are economic benefits to web mining there will be attempts to overload the processors of unsuspecting victims. And, perhaps even more importantly, this type of cyberthreat creates a significant negative environmental footprint. This means that preventing operations such as these from happening is not only a question of cybersecurity, but also something that helps to save the environment. This is definitely an unexpected takeaway, but one that is worth remembering when assessing the severity of web mining."

To protect against yourself and your computer against web mining, Kaspersky offers the following tips for computer users:

  • Pay attention to your computer's performance. If your PC experiences lags or freezes, this can be a sign of malicious activity.
  • Check your system to see if it gets noticeably hotter. This is sign that the processor is being perused, a typical scenario for web miners.
  • Run the right security software at home. As an individual, make sure your security software protects against and blocks website scripts from web mining.
  • Run the right security software at your business. If you handle security for an enterprise, make sure your corporate security software blocks web mining scripts.

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Image: Igor Stevanovic, Getty Images/iStockphoto