The Pirate Bay hijacks visitors' CPUs to mine cryptocurrency

Posted Sep 18, 2017 by James Walker
Torrenting site The Pirate Bay has been caught hosting a cryptocurrency mining script that hijacked visitors' CPUs to generate coins. The site's operators said it's an attempt to move away from displaying ads. The experimental script has proved divisive.
Supporters of the web site The Pirate Bay demonstrate in Stockholm  on April 18  2009
Supporters of the web site The Pirate Bay demonstrate in Stockholm, on April 18, 2009
Fredrik Persson, Scanpix Sweden/AFP/File
TorrentFreak reports The Pirate Bay added the hidden cryptocurrency miner over the weekend. The JavaScript-based miner was integrated into the website's footer. It worked silently in the background, utilising the CPUs of visiting devices to generate coins in the Monero cryptocurrency.
The script was discovered because it places a significant load on the processor. Users observed spikes of 100 percent CPU usage as the miner went to work. The site's forums began to flood with complaints about the unannounced addition, with many people obviously critical of the hidden mining activity.
In a statement posted on its website, The Pirate Bay's operators said the mining script was a "test" that was run for 24 hours. The team's evaluating the miner as an alternative revenue supply. Apparently, the script wasn't supposed to use all the CPU's resources. It's now been dialled back to a maximum of 30 percent usage, preventing the browser from slowing to a crawl.
The Pirate Bay said it "really wants" to get rid of the ads on its site. It also needs to remain profitable though, leading it to seek alternative income streams. Hijacking CPUs to mine cryptocurrencies could be an effective approach to moving away from ads. It's clear not everyone will be welcoming the idea though.
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Most of the complaints seem to centre around the lack of notice or permission. People might be more accepting if The Pirate Bay clearly details how the script functions and what it does. There are also concerns that The Pirate Bay's use of visitors' CPUs will have a detrimental impact on overall performance, or cause other sites to start using the same technique.
The Pirate Bay claims not to have nefarious intentions but there's potential for the idea to be used maliciously. Cryptocurrency miners have already been deployed in hijacked adverts displayed on large numbers of sites.
"We are testing a Monero Javascript miner," The Pirate Bay said. "This is only a test. We really want to get rid of all the ads. But we also need enough money to keep the site running. Let us know what you think in the comments. Do you want ads or do you want to give away a few of your CPU cycles every time you visit the site?"
Surreptitious cryptocurrency mining isn't new but The Pirate Bay's attempt is one of the highest-profile to date. It's worth noting the script can be disabled by turning off JavaScript in the browser or using an extension to block the miner. Just like ad blockers, there'll be "miner blockers" if the concept takes off as a widespread alternative to ads.