& # 39; Free & # 39; money: how students hijack my cryptocurrency in their dorms

15 min read

Last month reports appeared on crypto mining research conducted by Cisco, conglomerate Cisco with the following headline: "College children use campus power to mine my crypto."

In fact, many students do not have to worry about paying energy bills, such as their university accommodation contracts, which cover electricity costs. That "free" power allows them to host cost-efficient mining installations, with the only costs being the actual hardware. It seems almost too good to be true: mining students receive a passive income, which may cover the purchase of some textbooks – or even pay for the entire semester and more.

There is, however, a trap: no electricity is actually free and someone ultimately has to pay the price.

How popular is mining among students?

Cisco security researchers have investigated cryptocurrency mining activity in various industry sectors. The investigation was conducted with the company's Umbrella cloud security platform, which monitors customers' network connections for screening for malicious activity, allegedly revealing crypto-mining incidents.

According to the findings, university campuses are the second largest miners of virtual currencies in industrial branches with 22 percent, the second only for the energy and utilities sector, with around 34 percent.

As Cointelegraph reported, mineral revenues declined in 2018 (the last full year for statistics), thanks to the crypto winter and the associated fall in prices. That made mining less profitable. But the hash rates have continued to rise, indicating that the global mining pool continues to grow, even as individual miners come and go.

Cisco threat researcher Austin McBride explained the trend towards PCMag and said that "you stay in your dorm (the miner's platform) for four years, and that you leave the university with a big dose of change."

While running miners in dorms, students avoid avoiding electricity costs related to the profitability of cryptocurrency mines, McBride said, adding:

"Mining problems for many coins are currently very high – which means that it costs more for electricity and internet than the profit you can make by mining these coins. If you don't have to pay those costs, then you're in a really good place to make money with money from the university. & # 39;

Cointelegraph contacted Cisco and Cisco Umbrella to clarify which campuses were monitored, but has not yet received a reply.

A similar report was issued earlier in March 2018, when the cyber attack monitoring firm Vectra discovered that both intentional cryptocurrency mining and crypto-jacking were occurring more and more frequently on university campuses than in any other industry.

According to Vectra, universities are unable to follow their networks as closely as large companies with high-level IT departments, "at most students advise on how to protect themselves and the university by installing operating system patches and awareness of phishing create emails, suspicious websites and web ads. "

Students who benefit from this "free power" are in turn "simply opportunistic because the value of cryptocurrencies has risen sharply over the past year," Vectra's blog post said. Matt Walmsley, director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Vectra, told Cointelegraph that while the scope of their research was international, he cannot reveal which universities participated in the study:

"The data has been provided by educational institutions around the world, on the understanding that any identifying information would remain anonymous."

Although it is difficult to locate the hotspots for virtual university currency mining on the map, the phenomenon seems to be quite popular in general. According to the 2019 Vectra report released earlier this year, "cryptocurrency mining has become popular with students and criminals, especially with universities with large student populations."

Is it really that simple?

One of the most important things about mining under university housing conditions is that it must be discreet – otherwise the guards can hear the noise and start investigating. Mark D & Aria, founder and CEO of Bitpro, a management company for installation and mining based in New York, told Cointelegraph:

"I suspect the vast majority of college campus mining is not what you would think of mining installations – those gigantic machines with multiple GPUs (graphical processing units), specially built for mining. ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) ) will certainly be extremely rare, simply because they are so hard and warm that no one will tolerate them in their student room for a very long time. The student will have to explain that, and he will not get away with it for long. "

Instead, the majority of mining seems to come from old-fashioned PC & # 39; s by students, Bitpro's CEO suggested. In particular, casual machines can offer their owners a moderate income even during the current bearish market. Since extra electricity costs are of course covered by a third party. According to D & # 39; Aria:

"A game rig with a single high-end GPU might produce $ 1 / day. But even an ordinary laptop can produce a few cents. The most important thing to acknowledge is that although $ 1 / day is small – if you don't have to pay for electricity, there is no reason for someone with a game rig or reasonably powerful laptop * not * to mine. It is literally free money. "

Moreover, the generation of cryptocurrency with a computer does not necessarily require significant technical skills and knowledge. "It is extremely easy to do with services such as NiceHash (a crypto cloud mining marketplace), which can be set to mine automatically when you are not using your PC as a screen saver," added D & # 39; Aria.

Indeed, Tom (a pseudonym to preserve confidentiality), a medical science student at the University of Mississippi, told Cointelegraph that he had used NiceHash with his game PC to mine Bitcoin for about two months, but quickly decided to leave the idea because of the constantly high workload and rising GPU prices:

"I could earn about $ 120 USD if the price of bitcoin remained at $ 15,000. With bitcoin currently about $ 4,000 USD it can be profitable, given that I got free electricity. Because of the system load, plus the excessive high prices from GPU & # 39; s, however, I would not do it again. "

Tom indicated that, as an advisor in the dormitory, he was able to break into the local maintenance manager. That enabled him to ensure that his floor had sufficient air conditioning to receive a miner:

"It would be impossible to tell if I always had my PC on, especially since it was a huge 11-storey building."

Tom & # 39; s room felt cold during the winter months, so extra warmth was actually handy. He said, "I just used my computer instead of a space heater."

However, sometimes mining students become visible. Ken (a pseudonym to preserve confidentiality), an undergraduate from Arizona State University studying applied physics, showed Cointelegraph a screenshot of an alleged email from a university staff member. Ken was informed that the security team had discovered "a miner's program" on two of his devices.

"We would like you to remove the & # 39; s programs or run a virus scan in case you were unaware of these & # 39; s because this is a clue to malware on your devices," it said. .

Ken did indeed use NiceHash at that time, he confirmed to Cointelegraph. After consulting with fellow miners on the subreddit r / BitcoinMining, he decided to use a virtual private network (VPN) when he was mining and said, "I already had one and made sure it started up and the switch before internet killing was enabled was active so they could not follow me. "

However, when Ken managed to & # 39; a few hundred dollars & # 39; NiceHash was hacked and the student lost a large part of his money because he had not moved them to a private wallet.

Chris Partridge is a computer security graduate from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), who also mines cryptocurrency during his time at university, from 2015 and runs until mid-2016. "I was curious about Bitcoin and I thought that was a good way to learn, "he told Cointelegraph. His setup was slightly more advanced compared to Tom and Ken, because he used "a few" from Antminers, a BFL monarch and a Prospero X1. Consequently, the amount of heat produced by his equipment was considerably higher:

"None of them (the mining machines) were power generators at a distance, and they were all heavily underclocked / too little or too muddy to be cooler and quieter. Living in Rochester, New York, where it was always freezing cold, we had our window open 24/7 (even during snowstorms!) And the miners pointed it out, or else it became too hot in our living spaces quickly.It was a bit of a burden for my roommate and I, but he was a good sport about things "

Patrijs said he was never caught, despite a few room checks that took place for unrelated reasons. "Nobody seemed to care," he said. "Especially since it was a very small operation – I suppose I got a little eccentric, but further investigation was not required."

Even though it wasn't a profit-oriented venture for the former RIT student, he ran away with about 0.4 BTC, which he then sold for a hefty $ 6,000. The earnings came at just the right time: Partridge needed money that lead him to an internship. After spending the money on the general living expenses for a few months, he even had something left for non-essential shopping:

"I also bought a Roomba, because if there is something I can make a profit from with magic internet money, then it is a Roomba."

There are even greater success stories: Marco Streng, co-founder and CEO of Genesis Mining, a large cloud-mining company whose farms are spread across different countries, claims that he originally started his business in 2013 with a dormitory. to specify which university he went to, but saying that it is "the same all over the world".

"There was such a & # 39; n sauna atmosphere in my room of 10-13 square meters, and the noise was very loud," he told Cointelegraph. "We tried to soften it by placing a couple of pillows over the miner and placing it closer to the window to cool it down."

Stern said that while the turmoil attracted attention, his neighbors didn't seem disturbed. "I mean, I found it annoying, but it was a tradeoff for me," he added. "I was excited, passionate and there was an economic aspect – it created some money."

Around 2014, Streng realized that the local student community had started actively setting up their own mine platforms on campus. "The rumor spread, so it (mining) got some traction," he recalled. "The electricity bill of the student flat has risen considerably."

When the cryptomarket started to grow and Streng's activity became more and more profitable, he realized that he could run "a few thousand of those machines", with which he set up an industrial-scale mining.

"That led to the creation of Genesis Mining, one of the largest mining companies," Streng told Cointelegraph. "I am very happy that I did that in my student house and found that opportunity. Otherwise it would never have happened. & # 39;

How legal and ethical is that?

Although no university appears to have a specific policy regarding cryptocurrency mines in its buildings, Stanford University issued a public warning against crypto mines on campus in January of 1888, arguing that school resources should not be used. used for personal financial gain & # 39 ;. The warning also mentions the university's senior information security officer:

"Cryptocurrency-mining is the most lucrative when computer costs are minimized, which unfortunately has resulted in infected systems, misused university computer equipment and personal mine equipment on campus power."

Indeed, many universities seem to prohibit the use of their resources for personal financial gain – including the benefits mentioned in this article. RIT & # 39; s code of conduct for computer use, for example, states the following:

"No member of the RIT community may use a RIT computer account or communication equipment owned or maintained by RIT to perform a business or commercial service or to advertise for a commercial organization or company. (… ) In accordance with other specific policies, members of the RIT community may not waste the resources of the university or use it for personal gain or for the benefit of a non-university entity. "

However, the absence of specific rules for cryptocurrency mining can create tax problems for educational institutions that host such activity (unintentionally or not) on their property. As Selva Ozelli, international tax lawyer and CPA, Cointelegraph have said:

"Since electricity is usually included in a student's tuition or rent, universities must determine whether or not to allow cryptocurrency extraction on campus campus, or whether students must pay extra for electrical expenses related to cryptocurrency- If universities do not pursue good policies in this regard, they may submit to tax problems, because section 4, Q & A-8 of Notice 2014-21 states that cryptocurrency mines that are treated as a service activity must be treated as ordinary income. in the year in which they are extracted and that the costs of mining – including electrical costs – are deducted on the basis of costs incurred on the basis of the matching of income and expenses. "

From an ethical point of view, the situation is also quite complex and the opinions differ even from those who have benefited from mining on campus.

"I pay to have the room and since no explicit details in my contract punished excessive use of electricity, I thought it was fine, especially since I still had to use a space heater because students could not control the temperature in their own room," Tom said. the University of Mississippi, denying that he was wrong in setting up a mine rig in his room.

Rochester Institute of Technology & # 39; s Partridge was more critical. "I don't think it's ethical to mine on a large scale at college campuses," he told Cointelegraph. "The electricity that is & # 39; free & # 39; for me is not the same as the electricity that is free, unfortunately." The former RIT student remembered that he burned about $ 200 while he was mining in his dormitory, "assuming they get pretty hefty commercial electricity rates." He went on:

"Most people who claim that mines on campus are ethical do not take into account an important second variable: this is not without risk. Student housing is not designed to house large amounts of electronic equipment, and cannot suppress or otherwise contain electrical fires – which can easily lead to enormous material damage and loss of human life. "

Strict, the Genesis Mining CEO, believes that although the mining project can contribute to the decentralized network, students should not exploit the resources of their universities and should inform the local government if possible. "I think it's great if a student wants to do it (mine in his / her room) and is excited about it," he said. "But of course they have to pay their bills." He continued:

"The new side effect of the entire cryptocurrency idea is that someone living in a small room can convert electricity into money. There are many institutional setups – not just in education – when someone pays for the electricity of a certain area, while residents must pay a fixed contribution, regardless of how much electricity they use. I think those providers should now be aware of these possibilities and that people can make use of them. They must respect that and include it in their agreements. "

Therefore, if universities continue to oversee most of the mining on their territory, the phenomenon is likely to continue, allowing students to earn at least some beer money.

"I can't imagine a university student going to refuse $ 30 / month or even $ 5 / month," says D & # 39; Aria from Bitpro. "Although they deal with small quantities on an individual basis, mining introduces cryptocurrencies for an entire generation of young adults. It doesn't take much time to figure out how easy and convenient it is to use something like Ethereum to reduce the cost of a 12-pack natty ice cream – especially when there is no credit card statement that their parents can keep an eye on. "

window.fbAsyncInit = function() { FB.init({ appId : ‘1922752334671725’, xfbml : true, version : ‘v2.9’ }); FB.AppEvents.logPageView(); }; (function(d, s, id){ var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)(0); if (d.getElementById(id)) {return;} js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “http://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js”; js.async = true; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’)); !function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) {if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function(){n.callMethod? n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)}; if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′; n.queue=();t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0; t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)(0); s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window,document,’script’, ‘https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/fbevents.js’); fbq(‘init’, ‘1922752334671725’); fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);

Written by

Don Bradman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *