Sneakily-injected code that mines cryptocurrencies with unsuspecting users' computers has popped up in all sorts of new and strange contexts recently—from torrent sites to internet-connected toasters.
Now it looks like this scheme, which has come under scrutiny from internet gatekeepers like Cloudflare, has arrived in the world of video games. On Thursday, TorrentFreak reported that Epic Games is suing a player who distributed Bitcoin mining code to unsuspecting users who thought they were downloading cheats for the popular free-to-play game Fortnite. "While the 'cheat' does not appear to be a functional Fortnite cheat," reads a court filing posted by TorrentFreak, "it functions as a bitcoin miner that infects the user's computer with a virus that causes the user's computer to mine bitcoin for the benefit of an unknown third party."
An Epic Games spokesperson declined to comment on this case but sent a company statement relating to the practice of players distributing cheats. "When cheaters use aimbots or other cheat technologies to gain an unfair advantage, they ruin games for people who are playing fairly," the spokesperson wrote. "We take cheating seriously, and we'll pursue all available options to make sure our games are fun, fair, and competitive for players."
Bitcoin mining code hijacks an unsuspecting user's computer resources and can impact performance significantly while it's running. While playing a video game, this could have resulted in unwelcome lag.
The Fortnite scheme makes some sense, because gaming computers often make use of specialized hardware to render graphics, which also happens to be perfectly suited to mining cryptocurrencies. Many cryptocurrency miners, in fact, simply buy gaming hardware to do their work. Targeting gamers is likely to be more profitable than other schemes, like in-browser mining, which may hijack less capable rigs.
The sneaky cryptocurrency miner phenomenon seems to be just getting started, and Google engineers are even starting to look at ways to stymie the problem. With gaming rigs now in the crosshairs, we could be seeing more gamers become cryptocurrency miners without even knowing it.
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