Salon to ad blockers: Can we use your browser to mine cryptocurrency?

Enlarge / Salon’s new message for ad-blockers.

Salon

Salon.com has a new, cryptocurrency-driven strategy for making money when readers block ads. If you want to read Salon without seeing ads, you can do so—as long as you let the website use your spare computing power to mine some coins.

If you visit Salon with an ad-blocker enabled, you might see a pop-up that asks you to disable the ad-blocker or “Block ads by allowing Salon to use your unused computing power.”

Salon explains what’s going on in a new FAQ . “How does Salon make money by using my processing power?” the FAQ says. “We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution, and innovation. For our beta program, we’ll start by applying your processing power to help support the evolution and growth of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.”

While that’s a bit vague, a second Salon.com pop-up says that Salon is using Coinhive for “calculations [that] are securely executed in your browser’s sandbox.” The Coinhive popup on Salon.com provides the option to cancel or allow the mining to occur for one browser session. Clicking “more info” brings you to a Coinhive page .

Salon’s “powered by Coinhive” pop-up.

We wrote about Coinhive in October 2017. Coinhive “harnesses the CPUs of millions of PCs to mine the Monero crypto currency. In turn, Coinhive gives participating sites a tiny cut of the relatively small proceeds.”

It really does use a lot of CPU power

I enabled the mining on Salon.com today in order to see how much computing power it used. In Chrome’s task manager, I got CPU readings of 426.7 and higher for a Salon tab:

Enlarge

Jon Brodkin

The Chrome helper’s CPU use shot up to 499 on my 2016 MacBook Pro, a highly unusual total on my computer even for the Chrome browser:

Enlarge

Jon Brodkin

The bottom of my laptop started heating up a little, but the computer still worked normally otherwise. With that high Chrome usage, the Mac Activity Monitor said I had about 24 percent of my CPU power still in idle. After I disabled Salon’s cryptocurrency mining, my idle CPU power went back up to a more typical 70 to 80 percent.

The computer I used for this has a quad-core, Intel Core i7 Skylake processor. People with different computers will obviously get different results. While Salon’s mining might not lock your computer up, I still wouldn’t want it running in the background, especially if I was away from a power outlet.

Salon: No risk to security

On Salon, readers aren’t forced into cryptocurrency mining because of the site’s opt-in system. But in other cases, users have been unaware that Coinhive was being used on their systems. Researchers “from security firm Sucuri warned that at least 500 websites running the WordPress content management system alone had been hacked to run the Coinhive mining scripts,” we wrote in the October 2017 article.

Cryptojacking continues to be aproblem, as we’ve detailed inseveral additional articles, including oneyesterday.

Users being caught unaware shouldn’t happen at Salon, which makes it clear that readers don’t have to opt in to the mining and says that users’ security isn’t compromised.

“This happens only when you are browsing Salon.com,” the site’s FAQ says. “Nothing is ever installed on your computer, and Salon never has access to your personal information or files.”

Salon notes that ads allow the site to make money from readers without requiring them to pay for subscriptions.

“Back in the 1990s, as now, Salon offered the common relationship of serving ads to its users in exchange for keeping most of our content free,” Salon wrote. “The principle behind this is that your readership has value both to us and to our advertisers. Recently, with the increasing popularity of ad-blocking technology, there is even more of a disintegration of this already-tenuous relationship; like most media sites, ad-blockers cut deeply into our revenue and create a more one-sided relationship between reader and publisher.”

Salon currently doesn’t seem to offer a subscription option but says it will soon deliver “a fast, ad-free experience” in a new, paid app for mobile phones and tablets.

If you want to support Ars Technica and avoid ads, you can sign up for one of oursubscription plans.

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