Google Bans Crypto-Currency Mining Extensions From Chrome Store

Effectively immediately, developers are not permitted to upload extensions with crypto-currency mining features, company says.

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Google is making it harder for cyber-criminals to use Chrome browser extensions for crypto-currency mining. 

Effective immediately Google will no longer allow developers to upload crypto-currency mining browser extensions to the Chrome Web Store. 

Extensions with crypto-currency mining functions that are already in Chrome store will be delisted sometime in late June. The company will however continue to permit extensions designed for blockchain-related purposes that do not involving mining in the web store.

James Wagner, product manager for Google Extensions Platform described the company's decision as stemming from security concerns. "Over the past few months, there has been a rise in malicious extensions that appear to provide useful functionality on the surface, while embedding hidden crypto-currency mining scripts that run in the background without the user’s consent," Wagner wrote in a blog April 2. 

Such mining scripts can consume significant CPU resources and seriously impact overall system performance and power consumption, he said. 

Google's decision reverses its policy so far of allowing crypto-currency mining extensions in its Web Store so long as that was the extension's sole purpose and users were adequately informed of the extension's purpose. 

Google's policies for developers include a clause that requires extensions to have just one, easy-to-understand function. The company expressly forbids extensions that require users to accept a bundle of unrelated functions or that download executable files on user systems. 

According to Wagner, 90 percent of Chrome browser extensions with mining functionality that developers have uploaded or have tried to upload to the Chrome Web store in recent months have not complied with these policies. Google has been forced to reject or remove these extensions from the store. 

Google's move to ban crypto-currency mining extensions is likely to be welcomed by security experts who for months have been reporting a huge increase in crypto-jacking incidents where criminals quietly hijack a user's computer and use it to mine cryptocurrencies.

 

Often such hijacking is accomplished through malware delivered on a victim's system via phishing emails and compromised websites. In many other instances though, attackers have bundled crypto-mining code in browser extensions purportedly designed for other purposes. 

Only last December for instance, security researchers reported that a Chrome browser extension called Archive Reader being used to quietly mine Monero crypto-currency on systems belonging to people who had installed the extension.  

Fortune and other media outlets that reported on the incident said over 105,000 people installed the extension—officially designed to help Tumblr users perform certain tasks—before Google removed it from the Chrome web store. 

Trend Micro, one of several security vendors tracking the sharp increase in crypto-currency mining attacks recently described it as the most detected malicious activity on devices connected to home networks last year. 

Others like Crowdstrike have warned about crypto-currency mining become a major menace for businesses as well. According to the security vendor, numerous businesses worldwide have been impacted severely in attacks in which criminals have taken over enterprise servers and systems and used them to mine Monero and other major crypto-currencies. 

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.