Watch our ads or we’ll use your CPU for cryptomining

From this week, visitors to the Salon news site who are running an adblocker have been confronted with a blunt choice: turn off your adblocker or let the site use your browser to mine cryptocurrency instead.

You’re on the horns of a dilemma: turn on ads and be annoyed by in-your-face content you’re tired of (and goodness knows what else besides), or turn on cryptomining and be annoyed by hidden content that sends your CPU into thermal overload (and goodness knows what else besides).

Interestingly, many security products – including Sophos – treat coin mining sites as so unloved and unlovable that they’re blocked by default, so Salon looks set to send you head-to-head with your own organisation’s sysadmins by forcing you to pick between the security devil of getting tracked by ads and the deep blue sea of letting cryptomining JavaScript have its way inside your network.

As Salon explains:

Your unused processing power are the resources you already have but are not actively using to it’s [sic] full potential at the time of browsing Mining uses more of your resources which means your computer works a bit harder and uses more electricity than if you were just passively browsing the site with ads.

How does this business model work for Salon?

According to a pop-up on the website, Salon uses Coinhive. It’s the same browser-based coinmining service used in last weekend’s indirect compromise that turned thousands of websites – including numerous government pages in the US, the UK and Australia – into cryptomining zombies.

According to Coinhive’s own website, even if you have a high-traffic website with 1,000,000 page visits a month, each of which lasts a full five minutes, mining all the time, all you can expect is about 0.27 Monero a month- currently about $100.

Some reaction to Salon’s move has been way less than positive.

Researcher Kenneth White tweeted:

But how can websites earn enough of a living to keep themselves afloat, especially with the rise of adblockers? In a world where readers seem disinclined to pay for content, and don’t want to allow advertising, cryptocurrency mining might look like the only viable option.

A fundamental problem is that Salon’s CPU-hogging implementation is unlikely to be sustainable. It isn’t at all clear that cryptomining is actually a viable way to make money for the sites that use it, and it probably doesn’t scale well either – if too many sites adopt it then web browsing would quickly become a chore.

If CPU utilisation were dialled back to lower levels, and user numbers grew, the idea might have legs.

As it stands, cryptomining has a lot of image-building to do (remember Pirate Bay?) and much to prove.


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