Browser-based Cryptocurrency Mining: Pros and Cons | CORPORATE ETHOS

Browser-based Cryptocurrency Mining: Pros and Cons

By: | January 22, 2018
Bitcoin

Investors all over the world are going hysterical about the concept of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin is not a new phenomenon – it has been in the news for the last several years. However, but for a few early adopters, nobody took it seriously till a few months ago. All of a sudden the bitcoin has become a household name.

Of course, the craze is not restricted to bitcoin alone. All kinds of cryptocurrencies are gaining strength – the market value of less popular crypto alternatives (like Etherium, Litecoin, Ripple etc) is skyrocketing. The market is so volatile that prices of these currencies go up by several fold in a matter of weeks and drift down as fast.

muralicolBut this staggering volatility of the market is not driving people away from the cryptocurrency frenzy. Despite the risk of losing their entire investment, people continue to flock towards the crypto world. Yes, what we witness now is a cryptocurrency gold rush.

To capitalise on the newfound gold mine and to make a fast buck, entrepreneurs are coming out with different innovations/tricks. One such innovation gaining traction among the investors (or gamblers?) is mining cryptocurrency using websites.

What is crypto mining?

We know that all cryptocurrencies are based on the technology called blockchain, which is a public ledger in which all transactions are recorded. Instead of recording all transactions independently, a series of transactions are collected into what is known as a block and after proper verification, this block is attached to the ledger. One block is followed by another, which is followed by another and thus a chain of blocks are formed.

The process of creating a block is called mining and any participating node in the network can take the role of a miner. When you mine, you are volunteering your work (your computer’s work) and for this, the miner who creates the block is given a reward. This reward varies from one coin to the other and it also varies over time. For instance, for the bitcoin, in the beginning, the reward was 50 bitcoins (BTC). In the bitcoin scheme, the reward halves every four years. So, the reward came down to 25BTC in 2013 and now it is 12.5 BTC.

To make sure that there is a standard order to these blocks, each block holds the hash value of the current block, which is based on the list of transactions and the previous block’s hash. A hash is a digital signature of some kind of data. The hash function can take any kind of data. The data can be just a word, or a sentence or a set of sentences, words and numbers, or it could be a text file, a music file or even a digital movie. Irrespective of the input data size, the output of hash function produces a string of bits with a fixed length (say 256 bits).

For a given input the hash function always produces the same output. The significance of hashing is that if you make even a very small change in the data (even by editing just one character) you will get a totally different hash – the change in output is entirely unpredictable.

To control the block creation process, the system introduces some kind of difficulty into the block mining process.  For instance, the system can stipulate that hash of the next block should start with a specified number of zeroes. This means the miner has to find a special number so that hash of the block starts with a specified number of zeros. This value can be found only by brute force search. One has to execute the hash function continuously till the correct solution comes out. The number of times the hash function can be executed per second is called the hash rate of the system.

An interesting part of the system is that the difficulty level varies with the whole computation power of the network. For this, in the bitcoin scheme, the system periodically changes the required number of zeros so that it should take, on average, 10 minutes to find a new block. ( Note: this ten minutes duration is called block time and this is not same for all cryptocurrencies. For some currencies, it is much shorter than that.)

So, as more and more miners are added to the network the challenge gets harder and harder in such a way that the system has only one winner every 10 minutes (or whatever is the time required to generate a block). During the initial days of bitcoin, one could mine even with an ordinary PC as the number of miners was very small. This is called solo mining. Now solo mining is almost impossible (as the required computing power or hash rate is very high) and instead, miners pool resources and use what is called a mining pool. All the participants together pull the resources to find a block and if they succeed the reward is shared.

Another interesting trend in the crypto mining realm is decentralised mining in which idle/unused CPU power of computers across the Net is harnessed for the purpose. This is the context in which website mining comes into play. Services like Coinimp  allow you to participate in the mining process by helping you share your CPU power through your browser. The service allows you to mine the cryptocurrency Monero .

To get started with the mining process, create an account with Coinimp, log-in to the site, press the button ‘Start Mining Now’. Once logged-in you will get access to the ‘Dashboard’ of your mining account (screenshot below).

crypto

As can be seen above, the dashboard provides complete details regarding your machine’s mining process (like Av. Hashes/sec, pending balance etc).

Apart from allowing you to be a part of the mining process, Coinimp allows you to convert your website also into a miner. The service allows you to embed a Javascript miner into your website by inserting a snippet of javascript code (use the ‘Get Code’ button for this). Whenever a visitor comes to your site, the code gets activated and starts the mining process using the visitor’s CPU power.

The advantage for the site owner is obvious: she can monetise her site using the visitor’s CPU. Many people see this as an alternative to the online advertisements that distract people. Here, everything happens silently.While the visitor enjoys the site content, the site’s owner gets some crypto coins in exchange.

Of course, using the CPU power of your visitor without his consent is ethically wrong. So, through some mechanism the owner should inform the visitor about the existence of the mining script and seek his consent — some kind of opt-in system should be in place. If you are concealing the Javascript miner from the visitor, you are guilty of this new crime called Cryptojacking.

Another problem with webpage mining technology is that hackers with malicious ends are using this opportunity to mint money. They inject Javascript miner codes into compromised websites and pocket the coins. Here, neither the content provider nor the user benefits.  A powerful desktop user may not feel the pinch immediately, but for a smartphone user, this could provide hazardous moments.