Cryptocurrency Miners Explained: Why You Really Don’t Want This Junk on Your PC

uTorrent recently made headlines for bundling cryptocurrency-mining junkware. Out of all the junkware programs bundled with installers, cryptocurrency-miners like Epic Scale are some of the worst.

Modern malware makes money by using this technique to mine Bitcoin, too. Even if you don’t care about most junkware at all, cryptocurrency-mining software is something you really don’t want on your computer.

Cryptocurrency 101

You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin, the most famous cryptocurrency. It’s a digital currency, and new units of currency are generated by “mining.” This is a computationally intensive task, and it requires a lot of processing power. Essentially, the computer is rewarded for solving difficult math problems. This processing power is used to verify transactions, so all that number-crunching is required for the cryptocurrency to work. That’s an extremely basic explanation — read our in-depth explanation of Bitcoin for more details.

Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency. The Epic Scale junkware bundled with uTorrent’s installer doesn’t attempt to mine Bitcoin — it attempts to mine Litecoin, which was inspired by and is very similar to Bitcoin.

Mining Actually Costs You Money

Mining programs tap into your computer’s hardware resources and put them to work mining Bitcoin, Litecoin, or another type of cryptocurrency. And no, even if your hardware is used to generate money for them, you don’t get any of it. They get all the money from putting your hardware to work.

Worse yet, your desktop computer or laptop at home just isn’t powerful enough to profitably mine Bitcoin, Litecoin, or other cryptocurrencies. Doing this profitably requires specialized mining rigs with specialized hardware and cheap electricity. So, even if you put your computer to work mining Bitcoin for your own profit, you’d actually lose money. You’d run up your power bill as your computer draws more power, and you’d make back less than it would cost you in power.

In other words, cryptocurrency miners like the Epic Scale crapware or other malware programs that work similarly just run up your electricity bill for a small little bit of profit. The only reason they can profit is because they’re not paying the electricity bill — you are. You pay more in electricity so the junkware or malware authors can make a fraction of that in profit. That’s ridiculous.

We won’t even talk about the impact on the environment from using all of that extra power. But that’s a factor that shouldn’t be ignored.

Heat and Performance Problems

This is a bad deal so far. It would be better if you just paid a company like Epic Scale a few dollars and they avoided running up your electric bill — you’d save money.

But the problem isn’t just a financial one. These types of software kick in when your computer is at a low-power state, putting those idle resources to work. So, instead of using a small amount of power and running cool, your computer will run full-blast when you’re not using it, fans kicking into high gear to dissipate all that heat. If the software isn’t programmed properly — or if it’s just too greedy — it may continue running even while you’re using your computer, slowing tasks down and ensuring your computer is running at full tilt all the time. Too much heat can actually cause damage, especially if your hardware is already flaky or if your computer is packed with dust and isn’t properly ventilated.

Really, we can’t stress it enough — there is no advantage to you in running a program like Epic Scale. You get absolutely nothing from it. Epic Scale gets everything, and you have to deal with all the problems.

So How Is It Justified?

BitTorrent argues Epic Scale is completely justified in abusing your hardware because you agreed to it. If you clicked through the uTorrent installer and accidentally agreed to the Epic Scale offer because it was disgused to look like a legitimate license screen, it’s only your own fault for choosing to use Epic Scale. That’s the argument from BitTorrent, Inc. If you’re not a fan of it, try one of these uTorrent alternatives (or stick with an older version of uTorrent) and send a message. As a bonus, you can avoid all the junk they’ll try to slip onto your computer in the future.

For their part, Epic Scale has a nice-sounding explanation of the issue on their website. They argue that they just want to “benefit high-impact charities” and “advance research science by providing affordable high-performance computation.” They say they “started with cryptocurrency mining as a way to advance the first mission.” In other words, for all their talk, they’re just mining cryptocurrency the same way that malware is doing right now, except in their case you have to agree to it first.

Ultimately, this argument is absurd. People would be better off donating to charities than running up their electricity bills, and a network of underpowered home computers with installer junkware on them isn’t the best way to provide “affordable high-performance computation” for research science. Their statement sounds nice, but their methods are absurd and a bit too similar to how criminals profit off of malware. The only difference is a dense EULA disguised in a software installer and a nice-sounding statement about donating the proceeds to charity. So it comes down to choice, they do give you one, unlike the malware, but it’s not a choice we recommend.

Well, we can say one thing about Epic Scale — they have a better public relations strategy than Superfish does. Bravo.

Donate Directly to Charity and Skip the Middleman

No, we’re not anti-charity. Do you want to support charities? Then donate directly to them. Five dollars donated directly to a charity every month is better than $5 extra spent on your electricity bill with the charity only getting a fraction of that.

This scheme just doesn’t make sense for anyone except the companies that profit from it.


Really, this stuff is extremely bad. Even if you’re used to your Windows PC being packed with toolbars, pop-ups, and other garbage, even you might think something is wrong if your computer’s fans are going full-blast all the time and it’s acting like a space heater. The Windows software ecosystem is sick, and this is how companies like BitTorrent, Inc. make their money. Yes, almost everyone is doing it — but no, it’s still not acceptable.

Image Credit: BTC Keychain on Flickr, Francis Storr on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Twitter.