There are only a few ways to make money from cryptocurrency. You can buy it and make a profit when you finally sell it. You can mine it and make enough coins to make a profit when you finally sell it.
You can run a cryptocurrency exchange and make a profit from every transaction. You can even create your own cryptocurrency and make money when your idea eventually grows big enough to make a profit.
What did you leave? Ah yes. risks and costs.
You can buy cryptocurrency, but you will only make a profit if the value of the coin goes up – and it goes up enough to exceed the fees involved in buying and selling. Whether or not this happens is anyone’s guess. It is very similar to buying stocks. Safe bets do not necessarily generate large returns, but high-risk bets can cause you to lose your shirt.
See also: Cryptocurrency comes with one massive caveat: remember the tulips.
You can mine cryptocurrency, but there is a cost to mining rigs and a greater cost in electricity and cooling. If you only use a spare computer during idle time, you won’t earn enough to be worth the time and effort. But if you customize machines or an entire facility, the cost of hardware and energy can exceed the value of the coin you’re mining.
You can set up an exchange, but there is an enormous level of effort to build the infrastructure and security, as well as the marketing necessary to be accepted as a crypto equivalent to a bank. It is not an easy task.
You can create your own currency and hope that investors will jump on it like a bandwagon. In general, unless you have someone as prominent as Elon Musk, you probably won’t reach critical mass.
But what if there was a risk-free way to make big profits from crypto? Turns out scammers and criminals have figured out a way. They have created malware that mines encryption when placed on the computer of an unsuspecting user. Crooks don’t have to spend on energy or gear. It is all paid for by their victims. Criminals need to make profit from selling coins that they spent nothing to collect.
Fortunately, antivirus and malware products like Norton 360 scan for cryptocurrency mining malware. So if you don’t want a criminal organization to gobble up your device cycles, invest in a Norton subscription, and your PC will be free from crypto mining…or…wait…what?
We’re about to split some very unsightly hairs here
We covered this last summer. When you install Norton 360, you also install a program called NCrypt.exe in the program’s Windows directory. Recently, The Verge took a deep dive into how this works. NCrypt is an Ethereum crypto mining app. Fortunately, we can make a few disclaimers to NortonLifeLock (the company behind the software), the crypto mining application does not launch automatically.
Instead, the installer presents a large green nag screen promising that you can “turn your computer’s idle time into money”. This leads to a switch that enables the crypto miner.
So, while Norton does not run a crypto-miner without your permission, it does install the software automatically and without prior permission. It is definitely a step forward from malware vendors because you can turn the feature on and off.
However, there is a “home always wins” element at work here, and Norton 360 users are definitely not “home”.
Norton’s sarcastic bet
When Bitcoin was first introduced, its mysterious creator devised a blueprint for value creation. The idea was that as more and more coins were “mined” using complex computer algorithms, the computer load would increase. In other words, it took more computer work and energy to mine 100th bitcoin than it did 10th.
Today, mining popular currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum requires massive processing power. You can take all the backup cycles of your desktop computer and run it every night for a year and make as little as $250.
While an extra $250 isn’t something to sneeze at, our dorm is that it would cost at least that much electricity. In fact, Verge did a mining test with NCrypt.exe. Their testing showed, “In real numbers, a mining night on the RTX 3060 Ti netted $0.66 worth of Ethereum and cost $0.66 in off-peak electricity.”
The thing is, Norton takes 15% of all cryptocurrency that users mine with Norton 360. I reached out to Norton’s PR team to ask what percentage of Norton 360 users are running crypto but haven’t received a response yet. We can assume that there is a reasonable number. After all, the promise to “turn your computer’s idle time into cash” sounds pretty compelling to most users.
See also: I bought Bitcoin from PayPal. Here’s what happened.
Even if you keep your device on all the time, it uses much less power than if you were running crypto mining algorithms.
With that, let’s break up Norton’s ironic bet.
Most users will lose a significant amount in terms of energy expenditure and wear and tear on their hardware because while mining and energy costs have stalled even for Verge with the overhead of mining Ethereum today, it will only become more expensive in terms of computation effort and power over time.
Norton also doesn’t release Ethereum sliver unless the user has reached the threshold, and that can take a long time. Then, and only after that, the user can transfer the Norton mined Ethereum to Coinbase, and the transfer and sale of the converted Ethereum will also incur a fee.
Norton should know that most users will not make any money. In fact, they should know that most users will lose their money, will not actually derive any value, nor will they take a step to transfer that tiny amount of mined Ethereum to Coinbase. Norton should know that what it actually does is almost the same as the malware vendors: use unsuspecting users’ equipment and power to mine coins, from which Norton takes a 15% discount.
Norton is betting sarcastically that most of its users are not too sophisticated to perform the analysis. Norton is also sarcastically betting that most users will respond favorably to an offer that appears to be easy money.
So Norton doesn’t just ship
$50 to $250 per year for Norton 360
(The price goes up in subsequent years, because of that of course), they’re betting users will spend another $200+ a year on electricity based on the promise of turning your “computer idle time into cash”.
That’s just cool.
Very juicy scheme
I think Norton has unleashed a very dangerous and very annoying genie here. Because even though Norton is an early player in the cryptocurrency mining pool, it certainly won’t be the last.
Cutting 15% of profits off the top, using users’ power and equipment to do all the work and pay all the expenses, is just a very promising scheme other companies should avoid.
Without a doubt, expect an even bleaker future as technology vendors include crypto miners in their code. More advanced companies may give users the option to opt in or out, while less active companies are more likely to embed their mining code and hope no one calls them.
See also: In just one week, my ‘investment’ in Bitcoin is down almost 14%
How many connected devices are there? How many smart lights, smart microwaves, anti-malware suites, smartphone apps, and games — oh, you can definitely expect this nonsense from game makers — how many are going to include mining software in their software and get a 15% discount on top?
Mark my words. Cryptocurrencies mined using the working algorithms of the growing processor are pox for the human race.
Go ahead, comment below. Cryptocurrency lovers, tell me why being a crypto miner will make you rich and awesome. You know you want. go ahead. Thinking people, feel free to think about the implications of this kind of scheme. Voices of reason are also welcome.
disclosure: NortonLifeLock was formerly known as Symantec. Back in the days of wooden computers and iron programmers, somehow, way, long ago, I was a Symantec CEO.
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