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Why Bitcoin Schemers Have Been Hijacking Personal Computers

Bitcoin schemers have been hijacking personal computers for their own profit, and San Diego researchers have discovered how much some of them are making.

Danny Huang says malware operators are ditching Bitcoin for rival crypto-currencies like Litecoin.

Aired 2/28/14 on KPBS News.

With one of Bitcoin's largest exchanges losing a half-billion dollars and filing for bankruptcy Friday, the virtual currency's future remains uncertain. And malware operators are moving on.

Hackers have been lining their pockets with the virtual currency by taking over strangers' computers and conscripting them into a process called mining. Mining involves solving difficult math problems, and it requires a lot of computing power. Instead of using their own machines, some Bitcoin marauders have taken over other people's computers using malware.

Danny Huang is a computer science doctoral student at UC San Diego. He and his colleagues found that 10 of these malware operations have netted more than $100,000 in the last two years.

"The innocent people whose computers are hijacked suffer from low productivity," Huang said. "And they suffer from high energy bills, because their computers are doing nothing but constantly crunching numbers and solving Bitcoin puzzles. All so that the bad guys can receive some Bitcoins."

But Huang says lately, these malware operators have been giving up on Bitcoin. As more and more people mine it, returns are diminishing.

"We're seeing fewer instances of Bitcoin mining malware these days because Bitcoin mining is basically not profitable today," he said.

With one of Bitcoin's largest exchanges losing a half-billion dollars and filing for bankruptcy on Friday, Bitcoin's future remains uncertain.

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