A look into the illicit use cases for privacy focused cryptocurrencies such as Monero & Zcash - and how that translates into value for the average investor

It’s often taken for granted that cryptocurrencies are operating in a sphere of bleeding edge technology. Through that, it's easy to forget that it’s still very new, and it most certainly hasn’t reached its potential - it’s unclear where the technology will take us, or what industries will be shaped by it.

Malware, too, shares this bleeding technological edge in common with cryptocurrency. Regardless of the dubious ethics that drip away in malware circles, malware can use and abuse the very limits of what is possible. The blend of these two very different technologies that has been a topic lately: malware is attacking ads which are spread across unsuspecting websites – injecting cryptocurrency miners into various objects.

Monero & malware

Coinhive is a small Monaro (XMR) miner script with an interesting premise: to replace advertising in websites with small cryptocurrency miners. The idea isn’t new. Browser based miners have existed since 2011, a lifetime ago in cryptocurrency terms. The concept dropped away as mining difficulty rose. Coinhive selects XMR as the output cryptocurrency due to XMR’s mining algorithm which is CPU reliant. In return for computing power to mine, the site visitor need not view any advertising. A simple but powerful idea. End advertising by paying website owners in cryptocurrency. A win win.

In September last year, a torrent site, Demonoid, began experimenting with Coinhive at its launch as a replacement for advertising. It comes down to feasibility and profitability. The idea of running no advertising is great, especially in a world of good, lightweight ad-blockers. But for every person without an ad-blocker, the profit may be more significant than 5 or 10 running the script. One must additionally take into account those that block scripts using tools like NoScript.

Undoubtedly, it’s Coinhive we have to thank for the wave of cryptocurrency mining malware injected into sites (detected) from December 2017. InfoSec firm Symantec saw a 34% rise last December in mobile applications adding cryptocurrency miners into their base code, mobile devices seen as a significantly easier target.

As Bitcoin prices fell towards the end of last year and into 2018, so to did the vast majority crypto-currencies. It became apparent that Bitcoin is still the king of the market, if their was ever any doubt prior. Interestingly though, its XMR that has gained relatively consistently on Bitcoin through the end of December and eventual market contraction in cryptocurrency. This link could be due to the viability in adoption, albeit from a nefarious source in browser based mining or mobile app code.

Regardless of the type of use, any use of a cryptocurrency leads to a result on the charts. Litecoin, similarly, is seeing results from news of adoption – converting directly to gains on BTC. There are of course numerous reasons for this, and in this space it’s silly to try to speculate endlessly on these reasons. Yet with the creation and global uses of browser based miners, XMR is clearly gaining something.

Zcash

Zcash (ZEC) is cut from the same cloth as XMR – a privacy driven cryptocurrency which masks the sources of wallets and transactions. ZEC has found use from criminals operating out of Russia. Again, putting morality aside: just in having a use, ZEC has remained a somewhat valuable cryptocurrency as a result.

It’s a chart which paints a different picture from coins and tokens without a use yet. Although declining overall, as is the times, it isn’t a cliff of despair like some coins and tokens, and it isn’t tied to the hip of BTC like many – indicating a lack of real viability.

Regardless of the morality of the sources of adoption, coins that have found unique use cases are the coins that are outperforming in general. Cryptocurrency miners inside inserted ads are on face value negative, as is hackers using drone machines to create viral mining farms, yet regardless, it has translated to notably more value in the coin of the criminals’ choice.

It’s an indicator of what is to come. We need to look to the bleeding edge on the bleeding edge of technology. It’s sometimes difficult when cryptocurrency, in general, is on the edge. But if we look beyond, it becomes crystal clear that adoption is going to lead the way in market prices. The coins that will retain value and grow are the coins that find a use and where adoption follows.

Following keywords like ‘malware’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ in information security circles may help investors jump on the coins of choice by criminals. The US dollar is the cash currency of choice for criminals world wide. It helps the currency retain its value. Traditional asset investors have this at the back of their minds. What cryptocurrency will criminals turn to in the future? Currently, it’s ZEC and XMR – and the charts reflect accordingly.

Featured image from Shutterstock

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Con’s a writer. His education background is law, where he’s published in law journals on the legal issues of crypto-currency. His opinion editorials tend to focus the relationship between people and technology, as well as the societal challenges technology can present. He’s consulted for non-profit privacy and digital rights groups, aiding governmental submissions. His passion is for information security, technology and the intertwining legal issues.

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