Cryptocurrency mining is providing a lucrative new revenue stream for online music pirates which can be hard to detect, warns tech expert Helen Saunders.
The chief operating officer at intellectual property and tech analyst Incopro made the comments at the recent PRS Explores: Emerging Piracy Trends event at PRS for Music‘s Kings Cross headquarters.
The event covered the latest developments in music piracy, including the growing use of cryptocurrency miners as an additional income stream for websites providing access to copyright-infringing works.
‘The interesting thing we’re starting to see is a movement away from advertising revenues, donations and other avenues. The rise of cryptocurrencies is allowing pirate sites to find new ways of generating revenues in the background without you even knowing,’ she said.
‘We’ve got a database of around 13,000 [copyright] infringing sites. At least 200 of those are actively crypto-mining currencies as you’re browsing them – and this is the start of a new trend. Sure, adverts are one way of funding these sites, but how many of you get really annoyed by the number of adverts you see? How many of you use ad blockers? If pirates see a revenue stream cut off, they’ll find another way to do it – that’s the nature of criminality online.’
Saunders went on to explain that music and video site users may be unwittingly mining cryptocurrencies as they watch and listen to content.
Mining programmes are loaded into the users’ browser when the content player is downloaded ready to stream the video or music.
Victims are not notified and are unaware that their computer is generating the cryptocurrency – the only sign would be that their computer is running slowly while playing the content.
Saunders confirmed: ‘With coin mining, you might not even know it’s happening. You might just be wondering why your computer has suddenly got really slow – it’s because someone is making lots of money out of your computer churning away, doing lots of calculations in the background.’
Also speaking at the event was Detective Constable Steven Salway of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU).
PIPCU has been instrumental in implementing the ‘follow the money’ approach over recent years, which has seen revenues streams to many pirate sites cut off by cross-industry collaboration.
He said: ‘We can tackle this in the same way we would an advertising network, which might not necessarily know what it’s doing is criminal. There may be a chance that some of the software providers for cryptocurrency mining might not know that they’re providing this software to criminals.
‘We can give them guidelines, including the implications of working with certain sites under the Computer Misuse Act and further offences with online crime and money laundering.
‘We’re monitoring it – let’s see if it grows,’ he added.
The panel was led by John Mottram, head of public affairs at PRS for Music, and also included Matt Cope, deputy director of IP enforcement at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), MIDiA Research’s Mark Mulligan and Simon Bourn, head of litigation, enforcement and anti-piracy at PRS for Music.