While it’s no secret that some pirate games releases contain malware, during the past few days a more unusual story has been doing the rounds.
According to a GameCrastinate report, this week thousands of BitTorrent users inadvertently became infected with Bitcoin-mining malware.
The problem apparently stemmed back to a leaked PC version of the much-anticipated game Watch Dogs from Ubisoft Montreal. While there was never any suggestion that the company had anything to do with it, the assumption has been that whoever leaked the game thought they could make a few dollars by installing the trojan on pirates’ machines.
While there appears to be very little hard proof that the trojan ever existed or indeed spread on the suggested scale, the idea that tens or even hundreds of thousands of computers could be hijacked to generate mountains of dollars for a third-party gained a lot of traction in the press.
The idea of a sneaky trojan install is likely to annoy just about everyone, but what if a similar process could be put to a more creative and authorized use? What if a developer allowed his game to be shared online for free but in return installed a Bitcoin miner on downloaders’ machines to generate revenue to pay for the software?
That question was emailed to TorrentFreak this week and while we had our doubts over the idea’s viability, it could be pretty cool if it somehow came to pass. We promised to find out whether this was a crazy idea or a flash of genius.
Last year, Ars Technica bought a dedicated miner for $274 capable of magically churning out around $20 in bitcoin every day. Sure it gobbled up $100 a year in electricity, but as a financial prospect it was a pretty safe bet.
Gamers tend not to own dedicated mining hardware, but people playing a game like Watch Dogs more often that not will have rather juicy graphics cards on board which could be coaxed into a bit of mining. Question is, would they be up to the task?
Roger Ver, an angel investor in several Bitcoin startups including Blockchain.info, BitcoinStore and BitPay, has been referred to in the press as the Bitcoin Jesus. In his opinion, could the “Watch Dog hackers” who sparked this story make much money with their illegal trojan?
“It depends a lot on the hardware of the machines, but to the hacker, it is all profit since he doesn’t have to pay for any of the hardware or electricity costs,” Ver told TF.
So with free money for the hackers established, we come back to the key question: could a Bitcoin miner installed with the permission of the downloader generate enough fractions of a single bitcoin on a single machine to keep the developer happy, in Watch Dogs’ case, to the tune of around $60? Ver was quick to disappoint.
“This isn’t viable any longer,” he told us. “There are so many people mining bitcoins using specialized ASIC hardware that a home computer isn’t very effective any more.”
So the idea of mining Bitcoin in order to generate revenue from people who can’t or won’t pay for their games is a no-go? It appears so.
“A few years ago, coinlab.com was trying to do this, but I don’t think this is practical any more due to the difficulty in mining bitcoin,” Ver concludes.
Back to the drawing board then….