Norton Anti-Virus becomes a cryptocurrency mining botnet

Before – the heady days of 2017 when Bitcoin and Ethereum prices soared and seemed immune to gravity – several well-known companies increased their value by claiming to create new products on the blockchain or create a solid crypto and reliable. -piece of money. The trend has continued during the pandemic.

We often notice a pang of desperation in old economy companies trying to reinvent themselves as blockchain or crypto companies. For example, according to Krebs On Security, RadioShack relaunched in 2020 as an online brand and “now says it plans to chart a future as a cryptocurrency exchange” helping old-school customers to feel comfortable with crypto speculation. We know that a few years ago photo giant Kodak, whose main product has been replaced by ubiquitous digital cameras on smartphones, announced its move to cryptocurrency called KodakCoin and Kodak KashMiner, this which quickly and temporarily boosted Kodak’s stock price by 60%. The New York Times said at the time, “Almost immediately, critics pounced on the company’s plans, calling them a desperate cash grab.” Kodak soon abandoned the effort to mine parts and digital data and Kodak now pretends to be a pharmaceutical company. Who’s Next, Blockbuster as NFT Factory?

No, the latest surprising news is Norton LifeLock as a crypto miner. Not that Norton LifeLock is an old-economy company, but it’s a relatively heavyweight security company offering a two-decade-old product that seems less relevant today than it once was. In the age of the Internet, software companies from the 1990s can be considered “old economy”.

Norton LifeLock has started offering the “Norton Crypto” tool as part of its famous yellow-branded Norton 360 software for personal and business computers. Norton Crypto allows paying customers to mine cryptocurrencies while their computers are otherwise idle. When the tool is activated, Norton pools all of its customers’ mining capacity into a pool of computing power that mines Ethereum, then splits the value of the mined currency into chunks and deposits a small percentage into a curated Norton digital wallet. in the cloud. for each participating customer. Norton skims a 15% service fee before the value is allocated to customers. Norton claims to offer this tool as a way to help customers improve security by providing reliable mining tools and avoiding “unverified code on their machines that could skim revenue or even plant ransomware.”

Despite some public accusations to the contrary, Norton does not automatically activate Norton Crypto when you subscribe to Norton 360 security software. You would need to turn on the tool if you wanted to use it. Disabling it also seems relatively simple. The company states, “If users have enabled Norton Crypto but no longer wish to use the feature, the feature can be removed through Norton 360 by temporarily disabling ‘Tamper Protection’ (which allows users to modify the installation of Norton) and removing NCrypt. exe from your computer.

The authors of The Verge debunked the worst scary myths about Norton’s decision to use its customers’ computer and electricity bills for cryptocurrency mining, but were concerned about the high fees charged by Norton . They wrote that Norton’s 15% fee was much higher than that of most crypto mining pool aggregators, observing that “pool operators often take a cut or fee to bring everyone together. However, the fees are usually closer to 1 or 2%, which is obviously significantly lower. And, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: anyone using Norton’s software to mine has already paid the company a subscription fee for its security software…. In actual numbers, one night of mining on an RTX 3060 Ti brought in $0.66 of Ethereum and cost $0.66 of off-peak electricity. Norton took all the profits. Before you can use the cryptocurrency you just mined, you will need to transfer it from your Norton wallet to a Coinbase account, which will incur gas fees charged by the Ethereum network.

Fees are likely to eat up your profits and maybe more. Is this the kind of boldness that Matt Damon urges us to adopt in his pro-crypto-investing TV commercials? No, but bringing more people into Ethereum mining increases the pool for those who have already invested, so the outcome is positive for crypto-hyped people (like those who pay Damon to hype for them) . Not so much for others. The Winklevoss brothers win; We are losing.

Why would this strategy make sense for Norton, a security software company? Although it dubiously claims that Norton Crypto is a security-focused product, Norton may just offer this product to open up new revenue streams for the company. Norton has no doubt noticed troubling trends with its traditional product line, all companies in the antivirus software industry could soon suffer if they aren’t already. After a 20-year ascent, the independent antivirus software industry could be obsolete within a few years. As with many important tools, virus shields are now built into our operating systems, so Apple, Google, and Microsoft will provide acceptable virus protection for most personal computer purchases.

As succinctly stated in Vice three years ago, “With the rise of security-conscious operating systems such as iOS and even Windows 10, there is a growing number of experts who believe that, perhaps to be, the best days of antivirus software are behind us. People might not need it as much anymore, and in some extreme cases it might pose risks to users. Norton may be reacting to the end of its flagship product’s lifecycle by forcing cryptocurrency mining on a dwindling customer base while the base is still huge, flexible and receptive. Maybe it’s a sensible piece for a formerly up-and-coming company desperate for a second act.

Norton is now in the Ethereum mining business and wants your computer to participate in this voluntary crypto-mining botnet. Could MacAfee or Kaspersky’s viral NFT trading cards be far behind?

Copyright © 2022 Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 18

Comments are closed.