Showtime Caught Mining Cryptocurrency With Viewers’ PCs

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Recent visitors to Showtime’s website got more than competently produced, premium cable series streamed on-demand. They also got a spike in CPU usage, as Showtime used their systems to mine cryptocurrency. So, was this malware? Perhaps a bad ad infiltrated Showtime’s site? Nope, Showtime apparently intended to do this by integrating the Coinhive mining API.

Coinhive is designed to mine the Monero cryptocurrency, which is optimized for mining on a consumer CPU. The algorithms for Bitcoin and Etherium can be boosted with GPU mining by several orders of magnitude, but Monero would only be about two times faster. The JavaScript library on the web can also ramp up CPU activity on a PC effectively, whereas differences in GPU configurations would make that more difficult. So, Monero it is. Monero is worth about $100 per unit, whereas Etherium’s price is around $300 and Bitcoin is over $4,000.

The presence of this mining tool on Showtime’s website was noticed by security analyst Troy Mursch late last week. Coinhive is JavaScript that can be embedded into any web page rather easily. So, unsuspecting people visit a page, and their computer starts cranking out cryptocurrency for the owner of the website. Cached versions of Showtime’s site from earlier in the month did not show the Coinhive plugin active. So, it looks like the plugin was caught quickly.

Users who land on a Coinhive page can expect to see a substantial portion of their CPU power consumed by the browser. Using a test page, I watched as Coinhive used about 60 percent of my CPU load to mine cryptocurrency. Your computer will use more power while this happens, and a laptop’s battery life will be severely impacted.

Showtime has removed Coinhive from its site after being called out, but it could be reactivated at any time just by dropping in a few lines of code. The makers of Coinhive pitch it as a way to monetize free content, but Showtime isn’t free. You need to have a subscription to Showtime through a cable provider or one of several streaming TV services in order to access the content. The Pirate Bay recently experimented with Coinhive in place of ads on its website, but even its users were not happy.

There might be reasonable applications for Coinhive, but sneaking it into your premium video streaming site is not one of them. There’s really no justification for this behavior, and Showtime has yet to make an apology.

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