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Cryptocurrency mining activity could be “aggressively throttled” by Google Chrome in future

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A Google engineer has suggested that future versions of Google’s browser could “aggressively” throttle cryptocurrency mining activities, which have recently exploded in popularity among website owners.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are supported by cryptocurrency miners. Miners verify every transaction in that currency and add these transactions to the public ledger. This requires a considerable amount of computer power, as the miners work through complex mathematical problems in exchange for financial rewards.

While some cryptocurrency miners are hobbyists, the activity requires considerable overheads to reap significant profits, mostly due to the sheer amount of electricity consumed in mining. It has been estimated that mining for Bitcoin alone accounts for 0.09 per cent of the world’s electricity consumption, similar to the entire electricity consumption of Syria.

The practice has been brought into prominence by the recent revelation that many websites, including The Pirate Bay and Showtime, have been surreptitiously using their visitors’ CPU to mine cryptocurrency using a script named Coinhive. This allowed for the website owners to profit from the use of their visitors’ CPU, reducing the need to place adverts.

A study has suggested that despite the practice only coming to attention recently - and Coinhive only having been released in September - already 500 million internet users could be having their computers used for cryptocurrency mining, with 2.2 per cent of the most popular websites (Alexa top 100,000) using Coinhive.

This has caused frustration and anger among internet users and already many ad-blocking extensions have updated to block mining scripts.

Commenting on a bug report for Chromium (Google’s open-source browser project, which forms the basis for Chrome), Chrome engineer Ojan Vafai said the browser could introduce measures to detect these high-usage CPU JavaScript tasks and prevent them from running.

“If a site is using more than XX per cent CPU for more than YY seconds, then we put the page into ‘battery saver mode’ where we aggressively throttle tasks and show a [notification] allowing the user to opt-out of battery saver mode. When a battery saver tab is backgrounded, we stop running tasks entirely”.

“I’m effectively suggesting we add a permission here, but it would have usual triggering conditions,” he wrote. “It only triggers when the page is doing a likely bad thing.”

The engineers would need to refine the amount of CPU usage and the amount of time this continues for in order to determine the best parameters for detecting mining scripts. A good place to begin, Vafai wrote, would be 100 per cent CPU usage for one minute.

There is no indication so far that an anti-mining tool will be incorporated into future versions of Chrome, although internet users keen to avoid accidentally running up high electricity bills thanks to hidden mining scripts can use ad blockers and anti-mining browser extensions, such as No Coin or AntiMiner.

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