Google Cracks Down On Cryptomining Scams

John Lister's picture

Google is banning Chrome browser tools that harness a computer's power to 'mine' virtual online currencies for a third party. It seems Google gave up trying to distinguish between different levels of legitimacy in such set-ups.

The whole concept of "cryptomining" using a web browser may seem baffling to many users. In the simplest terms, the cryptomining program could automatically load when visiting a particular web page or would always remain active (if it was through a browser extension). The users' computer would then "mine" (using mathematical equations) until a problem was solved.

The cryptomining may go on for a few minutes to a few days, depending on whether the user installed a cryptomining browser extension or if the web page uses JavaScript to mine. Because the cryptomining program can use a lot of CPU power, this usually (but not always) slows down the computer and also increases electricity costs.

Virtual Currency: Why Math Matters

The reason for the mathematical equations has to do with how 'cryptocurrencies' work, which means that every cryptocurrency financial transaction needs to be verified and added to a "blockchain," the digital equivalent of a banking ledger.

This verification process involves computers (often many) racing to solve a particularly complicated mathematical problem, a step designed to make it too difficult for people acting maliciously to hijack the process and tamper with the financial records in the blockchain.

How Money is Earned When Cryptomining

To incentivise users to take part in the cryptomining process, the computer that 'wins the race' earns a new unit (or part-unit) of the currency, which can be worth a lot when exchanged for real world currencies. That's led to people building extremely powerful computers (or banks or computers) to take part in these cryptomining races, likened to "mining for coins."

Solving the Math Problem Using Many Computers

An alternative tactic to cryptomining is to split the mathematical task across hundreds or thousands of ordinary household computers to combine their power into one massive super computer. The benefit here is that a super computer can solve the problem exponentially faster versus one or a few computers.

One way to achieve this is to use a cryptomining browser extension for a web browser such as Chrome, or to embed a web page with specific JavaScript code which activates when users visit a site. The idea is to get enough combined computing power to 'win the race' and make money for the organizers.

This practice can be perfectly legitimate. For example, if a charity asks supporters to install the extension as a fundraising tool. Another way might be if a news site asks readers to install the extension as an alternative to seeing ads on the site.

However, oftentimes users don't realize what's going on. For example, the extension description is misleading or bogus, the extension is somehow installed without the user's permission, or it's tweaked to consume the entire CPU which then slows the computer down to a crawl. In the case of JavaScript mining, users may not be asked permission.

Google Pulls Plug on Mining Browser Extensions

Google has stopped trying to figure out the difference between legitimate cryptomining extensions and non-legitimate. It experimented with guidelines that said extension developers had to clearly explain what was happening and not hide cryptomining behind other features, but found 90 percent of those extensions submitted didn't meet the guidelines. (Source:

Instead, Google has decided to ban all new extensions from its Chrome store if they contain any cryptomining elements. Any existing extensions in the store that allow cryptomining will be removed by July, 2018. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is Google right to make this move? Is there a case that cryptomining extensions could be a legitimate tool if properly explained? Should legitimate organizations continue to ask supporters to help via cryptomining?

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