back to article Game pirates 'donate' compute power to Bitcoin miners

Hundreds of video game pirates have generously, if inadvertently, donated their compute resources to virus writers by downloading Bitcoin miner-infected torrent listings. Dozens of game torrent files identified by Microsoft threat researchers as malicious have been downloaded thousands of times and were continuing to be seeded …

  1. Spindreams

    svchost.exe is a very common windows process and does not necessarily relate to your PC having a virus, this article reads like if you have this process running you have been infected which is very misleading and downright dangerous, if a user deleted this file their OS will likely cease to function.

  2. Cliff

    Screw that, it's kernel32.dll you really want to get rid of.

  3. Suricou Raven

    It's a stupid process too. It contains many many services - so when you see svchost.exe has started consuming every processor cycle it can, good luck figuring out which service is actually responsible for that.

  4. Irongut

    Not that difficult if you know how.

  5. streaky Silver badge

    Modern windows versions will tell you *per service* in the resource monitor.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Currently to date, unless someone has wrangled signing in a top notch style, svchost.exe should only exist in your system32 directory and not be malware. In Windows 7 (I think), you can show the working directory of the process.

    Now on XP, I had a virus that replaced svchost entirely, but of course left svchost working correctly (had it for years without knowing).

  7. Danny 14 Silver badge

    or they could have a separate svchost running elsewhere. People are accustomed to seeing svchost and might not look to see where the process exe is running from.

  8. Sir Barry

    I'm quite happy to hear thieving gits are getting nailed. Maybe this will discourage one or two from stealing.

  9. dotdavid

    Hear hear. I hate thieves. Only yesterday I was in a shop trying to buy a copy of Watch Dogs, but the shelves were completely empty thanks to all these thieving pirates downloading games from The Pirate Bay.

    Wait...

  10. gotes

    The trouble is, the people they're getting screwed by are (in my opinion) far more reprehensible than the pirates. At least the downloaders aren't actually making any money from piracy.

  11. streaky Silver badge

    Doubt it. It probably won't even encourage people to get a virus scanner.

    Most people are numb to if you download pirated stuff your dick will rot off stuff, for reasonably obvious reasons. Most people would prefer a bitcoin miner to Ubisoft's rootkits every day of the week, at least the bitcoin miner you can get rid of.

  12. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Meh

    Re: Sir Barry

    "I'm quite happy to hear thieving gits are getting nailed......" Unfortunately, it's not just Bitcoin mining, it's also malware that gets used for creating zombie farms used by criminals in attacks on companies online, which affects all of us in one way or another.

    "......Maybe this will discourage one or two from stealing." Unlikely, for two reasons. Firstly, most of the victims do not read tech sites like El Reg, so they don't get the warnings. Secondly, there is the stupid, rebellious attitude common amongst pirates/skiddies that blindly insists such warnings are just 'bogus threats from The Man'. Stupid is as stupid does.

  13. Oninoshiko

    @streaky

    While I must admit, I do have a hard time considering this any WORSE then Ubi's DRM, I've decided to just NOT PLAY THEIR GAMES. I have more games to play then I have time, even tossing out the bad-faith players like Ubi.

  14. Danny 14 Silver badge

    Re: @streaky

    hear hear on your UBI stance. As soon as people stop buying their DRM infested stuff they will remove the DRM. It isn't like there isn't plenty of choice out there.

    As for the bitcoin malware at the end of the day people were installing dodgy software, you get what you deserve really. As for "piracy" can't say I care either way; these days I buy all my stuff. This was always true, but as a kid I would have had no intention of buying it anyway (as I had no money as a kid) so I was never a lost sale piracy or not. Soon as I could afford to I bought stuff.

  15. Christopher W

    Yes they are, they're making clear profit by not having to purchase a legit copy.

  16. ThomH Silver badge

    That's deadly!

    Or possibly harmless, mostly harmless, poor, average, above average, competent, dangerous or elite.

    (though I assume the logo's just a lift by the hacking group if the games affected are only those listed)

  17. mark 63 Silver badge

    Re: That's deadly!

    i spotted that too, then assumed one of those named games had ripped it off

  18. Cliff

    Pointless

    Seeing as the way bitcoin mining requires specialist hardware and your own power station I can't see the piddly few cycles left over from gamers too tight to actually buy games are going to turn up anything useful.

  19. phuzz Silver badge
    Flame

    Re: Pointless

    You can mine bitcoins on a GPU, but it's not economical any more due to the amount of power it uses. Thing is, most PC gamers already have powerful GPUs, and if you have access to a whole bunch of them and you're not paying the electricity bills it's probably worthwhile.

    Much more so than using phones or routers anyway.

    also, things like Litecoin etc. are designed to be mined on GPUs and resistant to the purpose built hardware that has taken over the bitcoin mining pools.

  20. phil dude
    Boffin

    Re: Pointless

    I know little about this subject but "also, things like Litecoin etc. are designed to be mined on GPUs and resistant to the purpose built hardware that has taken over the bitcoin mining pools."

    With the exception of cost, how does one design an algorithm that is resistant to ASIC but not GPU?

    P.

  21. JP19

    Re: Pointless

    "the piddly few cycles left over from gamers"

    And the piddly left over bandwidth couldn't produce useful DDOS attacks by the botnets of PCs owned by similar trojan distribution methods?

    If it is pointless it is more likely because gamers with all their fan and temperature etc monitoring junk are the most likely to notice something stealing lots of CPU/GPU cycles.

  22. Tom 260

    Re: Pointless

    Nothing is specifically resistant to ASIC, but they can increase the complexity and/or memory requirements for an ASIC, which shoves the cost and power requirements up to the extent that using a GPU or FPGA is the better option.

    Litecoin and other scrypt-algorithm based coins benefit substantially from more GPU RAM, although scrypt ASICs have been on the market since about April, while multi-algorithm based coins (Darkcoin and others that run through a sequential process of 5 to 15 different algorithms) would require a separate chip on the ASIC designed for each algorithm to be the most effective. As multi-algorithm coins aren't as memory intensive, they're the current preference for GPU miners, with a power requirement around half that of scrypt algorithms.

  23. Vociferous

    Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    Usually keyloggers. Torrents from places like Pirate Bay are far more likely to contain malware than they are to contain a functioning game/application, and the user feedback is of course untrustworthy. Small wonder pirates get their gaming accounts hacked all the time.

    That said, my impression is that piracy on the PC is down sharply in the last few years. Partly because services like Steam has made it easier to buy than to pirate, but mainly, I suspect, because much of the pirate demographic have shifted to mobile phones.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    I'll throw my hat in the ring as a reformed pirate here - Steam is undoubtedly the biggest influence on my ceasing of these activities. Aside from the fact that it makes the whole process of buying, downloading and installing games VERY simple, there's kind of a Black Friday effect going on where I feel compelled to buy something I'd probably never have looked at twice (or had previously already pirated and completed) just because it was on sale. That and the skinner box effect of adding yet another title to your now burgeoning library and seeing the number go up.

    AC because despite the fact that I don't do it no more, honest guv, I'm still embarrassed about it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    Funny you should say that. If anything, Steam and the inordinate amount of red tape that comes with it drives me strongly towards piracy, not away from it. Thankfully, with GOG and the Humble Bundle, these days I rarely need to put up with its delusions of control over MY software on MY computer anymore.

  26. Jason 24

    Re: Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    Gotta agree, Steam has definitely moved me away from pirating. It's not so hard to just keep an eye out for when titles have a 70% discount and buy them then, that's near as dammit stealing anyway. Or at least the equivalent of buying 2nd hand, with the added bonus that the studio gets a bit of cash for the sale unlike 2nd hand games.

    I have also bought a number of games on Steam that I have pirated in the past. I've no intention of playing them again, but a fiver or so for something that has kept me entertained in the past is well worth spending on.

  27. JP19

    Re: Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    "drives me strongly towards piracy"

    I bought my first game from steam recently. After playing an unofficial 'evaluation' version for a while I felt it was well worth the special offer price from steam at the time.

    After all the faffing about installing and understanding steam and downloading I decided I would rather free up some disc and memory and carry on playing the 'evaluation' version.

    I think the 'evaluation' version did come with a free trojan, but the packaging is usually very crude needing nothing more than 7zip to extract the original files from an infected setup.

  28. P. Lee Silver badge

    Re: Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    >but a fiver or so for something that has kept me entertained in the past is well worth spending on.

    So true. I had so much fun with Defence Grid I actually bought DG2 at the only 10% off pre-release price because I'm embarrassed that I paid so little in a sale for the original.

    Plus, AAA (if slightly delayed) release on Linux and a righteous feeling of helping those MS tried to kill.

    ++ for Steam: Sales that make you buy stuff you don't need and ease of re-installation with the worlds only reasonable mechanic for implementing restrictive licensing.

  29. Danny 14 Silver badge

    Re: Pretty much every game, OS, or application torrent has some form of malware.

    I have never had an issue with steam. According to steam gauge:

    "Over the last 11 years, you've spent 2093.5 hours playing this selection, which includes 124 items, is valued at $1622.9, and requires 546.7 GB"

    So no issue whatsoever with 124 games; caveat - no issue installing, buying, running. The games themselves might be flawed (such as sword of the stars 2 etc) but apart from that I would say steam was a catalyst to reform.

    I have an offline cache on 2 laptops primarily with my turn based games. I have an online cache on 2 other PCs and have no problems playing on those PCs with my library. I suppose I could install the "family share" thing but don't need to.

  30. eJ2095

    Lazyness

    Got fed up of installing games on my PC so went the console route....

    And low and behold teh sodding games want to download a gig update just to sodding run... carnt win lol

  31. ElNumbre
    Facepalm

    Re: Lazyness

    LeMe: "Oh I've got 1/2hr to have a quick game of "Gears of Forza Drift Duty before life will get in the way again"

    EggsBox "Installing Updates, your console will reboot several times, not let you sign into Live, finish off the batteries in the controller and require you to delete something off the harddisk"

    LeMe: "Sigh"

  32. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Consoles have become a joke

    Consoles were good when they could not be updated. Back then, there was a clear argument for consoles over PCs because the games had to run and could not be updated, while PCs were notorious for system incompatibilities and driver nuisances.

    Then they went and fucked it all up with a hard disk. Ever since then, a console is nothing more than a locked-down PC in a walled garden with update issues.

    Thank you, but I prefer Steam on PC any day over those kind of nuisances. Plus my PC is more powerful than any console.

  33. K Silver badge

    I've said it before...

    And I'll say it again - I'll happily contribute CPU and GPU time in return for a decent game, its Win-Win. The fact that its taken the "dark-side" to lead the way, just shows again how out of touch and behind the times (in my humble opinion) the industry really is!!

    So Mr Games Industry.. Drop the f*cking stupid micro payments, slap in some code to mine some currency on idle CPU and get with the future!

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I've said it before...

    Good idea but I'd bet that in no time there'd by a version doing the rounds with the miner software removed. People hack because they like the challenge. I used to break protection because it was more fun than playing the game.

  35. Just Enough

    Re: I've said it before...

    You'd also quickly get different games competing for the same resources, running constantly on your computer whether you're playing the game or not.

    And then the next step would be one game trying to prioritise its mining ahead of another game. Or even disabling each other.

    All this going on on your computer, while you're trying to use it. Congratulations, you've just lost ownership.

  36. K Silver badge

    Re: I've said it before...

    @JustEnough - "And then the next step would be one game trying to prioritise its mining ahead of another game. Or even disabling each other."

    You automatically assume the mining would be occurring for the duration the PC is switched on..Why? Do you allow apps or websites to display ads on your phone even when they are not active?

    No you don't, it would be unacceptable. Likewise so would this running the mining 24/7. The model could possible consist of a minimum CPU allocated over to this whilst the game is running. With an 8 core CPU, running most game CPU usage sits at < 20%.. so giving over an extra 5-10% to this is nothing

  37. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Re: "running most game CPU usage sits at < 20%"

    Um, if I'm not mistaken mining takes place on the GPU, and GPU usage during gaming is largely pegged at 100%, so mining is going to take a chunk out of the FPS if it runs during the game.

    If the virus writer is at all intelligent, he will know that gamers tend to notice when their game doesn't run smoothly, and will have written his virus to use the GPU when no game is running - in other words, the rest of the time.

    And given that it is a virus, it only requires the game to be launched to get itself installed. Once it is installed, it shouldn't need the game anymore, so it can very well run when the PC starts.

  38. Cryo

    Re: "running most game CPU usage sits at < 20%"

    "If the virus writer is at all intelligent, he will know that gamers tend to notice when their game doesn't run smoothly, and will have written his virus to use the GPU when no game is running - in other words, the rest of the time."

    The majority of people downloading these games likely have a dedicated graphics card in their system, and most gaming cards have a fan that audibly ramps up under load. So, the user is bound to notice this and in most cases hunt down the cause relatively quickly. It would probably go unnoticed by some, particularly those with lower-end hardware, but it's not likely to get past those who would notice a reduction in FPS while gaming.

    In any case, the post was talking about the idea of companies legitimately making their games available for "free" by including mining routines in the software, as an alternative to ads or micro-transactions. It might not be a bad idea in theory, but ultimately you would still be paying for the game in the form of increased electrical use, and more importantly, the returns wouldn't be anywhere near enough to pay for the development of the game, let alone turn a profit. The developer likely wouldn't average more than a fraction of a cent per hour that the game was running on typical PC hardware, or significantly less still on smartphones or tablets, since the use of specialized mining hardware has pretty much made Bitcoin mining on a standard PC obsolete.

    However, the idea could potentially be profitable for those attaching malware to pirated software, since they don't actually need to pay for the development or distribution of that software, nor do they have to pay for the electricity. They probably won't make large amounts of money from it, but installed on thousands of PCs, they could pull in some extra cash on the side.

  39. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    An epiphany...

    I had something of an epiphany lately, following a heated argument with some Android gamers about piracy, payment and the time and effort put in by a developer to make a game:

    Some people are just not willing to pay for stuff, regardless of what's gone into making it. If there's a pirate version, they'll download it. If there isn't, they'll either look for something similar that provides the same sort of thing for free, or just won't bother.

    So yes, I could spend ages trying to add layers of protection in the attempt to prevent piracy. But the chances are, it won't bring me any extra paid downloads - and if someone really, really wants my game so bad, there's no piracy protection in the world that can't be broken with enough time and effort.

    So rather than waste my time and effort on trying to get payment out of people who are determined not to pay, I've shifted my emphasis to promotion and trying to reach out and find more people who are actually willing to pay - assuming they like my games, naturally!

    But K makes an interesting point - the idea of virtual currency mining as a deliberate monetisation approach... I'd rather use that than the current standard "free with ads" model...

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: An epiphany...

    In my experience, talking to pirates over the years (and being one of them myself for a while, hence the AC), pirates tended to fall into a few broad categories:

    1. Those who pirate, with no plan to ever pay for the games, period.

    2. Those who pirate, who don't have the money to pay for the games they want (at least not all of them).

    3. Those who pirate, in order to access a full 'demo' version, for evaluation.

    4. Collectors, who just seem to grab everything anyway!?

    So the impact to actual sales, for the above categories :

    For 1: None, as they wouldn't pay anything anyway.

    For 2: None, as they couldn't pay anything anyway (or at least limited spend).

    For 3: Depends on if the 'demo' was good or not, so possible sales here.

    For 4: Who knows!

    Most of the people I talked to tended to fall into categories 2 or 3. I was mainly in 2 when I was younger, and then 3 later on, which was a while ago now. (I buy mostly through Steam these days, about 200 in my library currently).

    Bottom line, the impact of piracy on actual sales, always seems to be massively overestimated as far as I can see (I stand to be corrected, flame retardant jacket on!), as most pirates either wouldn't or couldn't have paid for the games anyway, so no sales lost there, and of the remaining pirates, many would go on to buy the game anyway if they liked it.

    Besides, with some of the ridiculous DRM you get on some games, the pirate versions have often been more stable, and easier to install and run than the official versions! (I'm looking at you EA and Ubisoft!, get rid of the crap DRM and I'll start buying your games again!).

    A Download != Lost sale

  41. Danny 14 Silver badge

    Re: An epiphany...

    Agreed, as a kid I wouldn't buy many games as I had little money. Simple as that. so we would get the tape to tape out and copy whatever games our mates had bought and share them. Then when I did get something I would share that.

    I would never have bought the games shared as by the time I had money something new would have been out so i'd get that instead.

    And you could fit quite a few on a C90 tape so storage was better.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: An epiphany...

    I used to have a little group of friends, we all had Spectrum 48Ks, we would agree what games to buy, and pool our pocket money. Then make a copy for each person who contributed, talking turns with whoever got the original copy, on the premise that if you got the original version, you have to copy the relevant info from the manuals you got.

    I was a dab hand with electronics back then (about 13-15 years old), so built an audio filter system, to 'clean' the audio tape output from one tape deck, before recording to another. (band pass filter I believe they are called). Worked everytime :-)

  43. i like crisps

    Internet Security?

    Are Norton, Kaspersky, Bullguard, F-Secure etc, detecting any of these nasties?

  44. KroSha
    Coffee/keyboard

    Re: Internet Security?

    Suuuure they are.

  45. Vociferous

    Re: Internet Security?

    Any? Sure. Most of them? Maybe. All? No.

  46. DwarfPants
    Pirate

    You pays your money and makes your choice, but you pay either way

    And the choice is:

    One time transaction of known size with a reputable firm

    Or

    hand over any personal/private/confidential details the repackager sees fit to take from you.

    Certainly a case of buy now pay later.

  47. verloc

    Know what's in any software.

    Yes there are nasty things out there but from a reputable site with an active community behind it really reduces the risk. Also when did we all stop checking whatever software we put onto our machines? I'm not getting into the morality of software pirating but a few common sense efforts is all it takes to evaluate what you're doing. Sometimes El reg comments really does descend into the depths of "pc advisor" territory.

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