Amid Bitcoin mania, how browser-based cryptomining is back from the dead

As the Bitcoin craze continues to grow, with surging prices, browser-based cryptocurrency mining seems o have returned from the dead to haunt websites and visitors.

According to a report by security firm Symantec, browser-based mining, which dates back to 2011, has not only risen from the dead but exploded in the past few months.

Browser-based mining is a process of cryptocurrency mining that occurs in a browser and is implemented using cryptomining software and script. The embedded script then hijacks the CPU processing power to mine cryptocurrency of the site's visitors.

It started initially in 2011 when the BitcoinPlus.com was launched. The service was similar to modern-day Coinhive. It used JavaScript code for pooled mining and website owners could sign up for the service and embed these scripts into their web pages to make page visitors mine for them.

The big difference is: Back in 2011 BitcoinPlus.com, as the name suggests, mined for Bitcoin (BTC), bit now the browser-based miners like Coinhive are mining for Monero (XMR) — a newer, privacy-focused cryptocurrency.

Back then, Bitcoin was cheap, priced at $30, so mining was easy. But because there was profitability problem, it soon withered. In April 2013, the market had few cryptocurrencies and the total market capitalisation was $1.5 billion. At present, that stands at $166 billion.

That might be the reason why Coinhive released its browser-mining scripts designed to mine Monero, bringing the idea of browser-based mining back from the dead.

"This service wraps everything up nicely in an easy-to-use package for website owners and has injected new life into an idea that was long thought of as dead and buried," Symantec wrote in its newly published article.

"Together with the diversity of coins to choose from in 2017, there is also now a diversity of coin reward mechanisms. Some, like Bitcoin, can still only be mined via a proof-of-work (PoW) process using dedicated power-hungry ASIC hardware.

"Other cryptocurrencies like Monero, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, and Dash can be mined using retail-grade GPU hardware found in many home computers. There are also some that are more suited to CPU mining; these include Monero and Verium Reserve."

According to the security firm, cryptomining has also popped up in browser extensions, plugins, traditional tech support pages and websites that show up when you accidentally misspell a domain name.

The data pointed out that mining activity seemed to reflect the rising price of cryptocurrency such as Monero.

Although many security firms have blocked these background miners, Symantec warns that "increasing user awareness and detection by security vendors might trigger a new arms race between cyber criminals and defenders".