‘Cryptojacking:’ Secret Cryptocurrency Mining Has Reared Its Ugly Head on a Gaming Platform
Valve, the firm behind the cloud-based Steam PC gaming platform, recently adopted an anything goes policy for its Steam Store, so the team can “focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see.” The company said it would only ban games and virtual items that are “illegal, or straight up trolling.”
So what happens when a game, that wasn’t vetted due to this open policy, is actively harmful to its players? That’s the question after Valve had to boot a game off its platform that was apparently hijacking its players’ computers in order to mine cryptocurrency.
This is an activity called “cryptojacking,” and it’s been on the rise over the last year. Mining virtual coins such as Bitcoin or Monero is an intensive task that requires a lot of processing power and electricity, so there’s good money in exploiting other people’s computers for the purpose.
Criminals have used a variety of cryptojacking tactics, from breaking into Tesla’s cloud account to putting dodgy extensions onto the Google Chrome plugin repository to sneaking hidden code into the U.S. Courts website. And now we can add suspect games to that list.
The game in question is called Abstractism, an extremely minimalist “trivial platformer” that should barely make a dent in any computer’s performance. However, late last week, players started to notice that the game was having a serious impact on performance, in both central and graphics processing units, and that it was conducting a surprising amount of communication over their network connections.
It didn’t take long for a lot of people to conclude that Abstractism was quietly mining cryptocurrency on players’ computers.
The game’s developer insisted that this was not the case, instead proposing the unlikely scenario that high graphics settings were taking a toll on the computers.
However, with the added fact that the developer was selling what appeared to be a rip-off of another game’s in-game weapon, the chorus yelling “scam” grew too loud to bear. On Monday, Valve told gaming site Kotaku that it has “removed Abstractism and banned its developer from Steam for shipping unauthorized code, trolling, and scamming customers with deceptive in-game items.”
Fortune has asked Valve whether this episode suggests the company’s new openness policy is problematic, and will update this story when a reply comes in.