Google to Fight Online Ads That Use Built-In Crypto Mining Scripts

News and Analysis

Tech giant Google has begun combating resource-heavy web ads, such as those that mine cryptocurrency, and is planning to launch a dedicated feature on the Chrome browser by the end of summer.

Google’s intention to fight online ads with certain abusive experiences is made in the wake of its recent research, which showed that 0.3% of the total amount of ads consume a significant portion of computer resources, with users being unaware of it, according to a May 14 blog post.

Improving Users’ Experience With Online Advertising

The targeted types of ads can result in faster degradation of the device battery, network infrastructure overload, and even in a loss of users’ money. As such, Google will set specific limits for the amount of a user’s device computing power each ad can use. When exceeding those limits, the ad will be automatically shut down and switched to an error page, informing the user about the ad’s ill-intentioned nature.

In the post, Marshall Vale, product manager at Chrome, explained that the company “targeted the most egregious ads, those that use more CPU or network bandwidth than 99.9% of all detected ads for that resource. Chrome is setting the thresholds to 4MB of network data or 15 seconds of CPU usage in any 30 second period, or 60 seconds of total CPU usage.”

Per the analysis, only 0.3% of ads surpass the threshold, however, they are responsible for 27% of network data consumption and 28% of all ad central processing unit usage. As ads with harmful or annoying experiences, Google labeled such as ads with a built-in crypto mining script, those which are poorly programmed or are unoptimized for network usage.

The move comes within the frameworks of the Better Ads Standards, an initiative launched by leading international trade associations and firms in the online media field. The team behind the program analyzes online users’ preferences worldwide to identify the most- and least preferable and nefarious ad formats in a bid to improve the online ad experience. Eventually, the initiative aims to implement a single standard for online ads globally.

Cryptojacking Is Gaining Traction

Cryptocurrency mining indeed requires a great deal of computer power and time, so bad actors often take advantage of users’ computer processing power by exploiting vulnerabilities of the system to illicitly install crypto mining software on victims’ devices.

According to the McAfee Labs Threats Report released in August 2019, the first quarter of last year saw the emergence of new cryptojacking—a scheme to illegally use users’ devices to mine cryptocurrencies—families targeting Windows and Apple devices.

Per the report, the volume of cryptojacking campaigns targeting victims’ computers to mine cryptocurrencies continued to grow and increased by 29%, by that time.

In the second quarter of 2019, the 2020 Cyber Threat Report from network security firm SonicWall showed an emerging positive trend in the field after detecting a 78% drop in cryptojacking attacks.

That reportedly followed the closure of Coinhive, a crypto mining service that allowed users to mine Monero (XMR) with their browsers, which eventually gained popularity among malware authors.

Nevertheless, cryptocurrency miners still dominate the malware landscape, as reported by Check Point Software Technologies. Despite the notable decline in cryptojacking due to the Coinhive shutting down, 2019 saw 38% of companies worldwide impacted by illegal cryptocurrency miners because their use remains a low-risk and high-reward activity for criminals.

Written by Ana Alexandre

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