Coinhive Is Shutting Down, and Your PC Will Be Safer

Senior editor, security and privacy
Updated

You may never have heard of Coinhive, but the web's most notorious cryptocurrency-mining service, is shutting down next week. This will make you safer from "cryptojacking" coin-mining browser malware — at least in the short term.

Yes, we know this is Bitcoin and not Monero in the image. Credit: igorstefanovic/ShutterstockYes, we know this is Bitcoin and not Monero in the image. Credit: igorstefanovic/Shutterstock

Coinhive's JavaScript code let website operators "mine" units of the Monero cryptocurrency by "borrowing" the processing power of computers used by website visitors. Many respectable websites, such as Salon.com and the Windscribe VPN service, have used Coinhive to make a bit of extra dosh.

But scammers also snuck the Coinhive code into unsuspecting websites that had poor security, making the scammers a lot of money. Coinhive itself generally got a 30 percent cut of the generated Monero currency, and the company was a bit slow to stop the crooks. In November 2017, some 2,500 websites ran Coinhive code, most of them without the knowledge of site operators or site visitors.

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Often, the only way you could tell you'd been "cryptojacked" was that your computer's CPU usage would suddenly skyrocket and the cooling fans would spin much faster. On the upside, there wasn't really any permanent damage as a result of temporarily running Coinhive software or stand-alone cryptojacking malware. (A few phones were overheated in lab tests, however.)

Monero peaked at about $540 U.S. dollars in January 2018. Today, after the crash of the cryptocurrency market, one unit of Monero is worth about $50, and it's also become harder to mine. A "hard fork" of the currency scheduled for March 9 will make mining even more difficult.

So the Coinhive operators are throwing in the towel.

"The decision has been made. We will discontinue our service on March 8, 2019," a posting Tuesday (Feb. 26) on the Coinhive website said. "It has been a blast working on this project over the past 18 months, but to be completely honest, it isn't economically viable anymore."

It's possible that some miscreants will gin up a new form of coin-mining malware to insert into websites. In the meantime, the crooks are turning back to encrypting ransomware, which leaves a much larger trail of damage than cryptojacking.