You can’t be serious. Norton 360, the somewhat-frustrating antivirus software that comes preinstalled on many Windows computers, will soon have a built-in Ethereum cryptominer. In its press release, NortonLifeLock says that Norton Crypto will empower people to mine with a “brand they trust” instead of taking risks and running “unvetted code” on their computers.
Update, 1/5/22 9:46 am Eastern: Now that Norton Crypto is available to all Norton 360 customers in the United States, it’s pretty clear that this is a terrible and user-hostile hunk of junk.
Norton claims the cryptominer is opt-in only, and while you can disable the feature at any time, it installs on your system without asking. It’s also difficult to uninstall; you have to manually delete NCrypt.exe from your computer’s directory. Bear in mind that Norton 360 costs $100 a year, it’s not a free antivirus software.
Additionally, Norton now says that it takes a 15% commission from all the cryptocurrency its customers produce (plus an additional fee to transfer coins to another wallet). That’s genuinely insane—most mining pools take a 1% fee. So not only is Norton encouraging its probably-not-tech-savvy customers to waste their electricity on at-home cryptomining, but it’s taking a massive stake of all earned coins.
Cryptomining software uses a computer’s resources to solve complex puzzles and earn digital currency. It may sound like free money, but cryptomining software requires energy and can shorten the lifespan of computer hardware. The risky pay-off is that any cryptocurrency you earn, whether it’s Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Dogecoin, may increase in value depending on the volatile crypto market. You can then sell the digital coins for real-world profit.
It doesn’t take a computer wiz to realize that cryptominers aren’t cybersecurity tools. Still, NortonLifeLock CEO Vincent Pilette insists the opposite—“Norton Crypto is yet another innovative example of how we are expanding our Cyber Safety platform to protect our customers’ ever-evolving digital lives.”
In a way, he isn’t all that wrong. Those who are most likely to use Norton Crypto probably know very little about cryptomining and may be vulnerable to “pitfalls” like malware or hard drive failure, which can destroy hard-earned coins. Norton Crypto also features a cloud-based wallet to protect cryptocurrency and, according to a statement made to The Verge, can connect to Coinbase for trading.
But let’s be realistic for a second—the kind of people who will use Norton Crypto probably wouldn’t go out of their way to download a spooky, “unvetted” cryptomining software. They will only use Norton Crypto because it came preinstalled on their computer and, at a glance, produces free money. Norton Crypto users may not fully understand how the software works, the impact that cryptomining has on their computer’s lifespan, the tax requirements for cryptomining, or the risks involved with crypto trading.
At its launch, Norton Crypto will only produce Ethereum, which is difficult to mine on a single laptop or desktop. As noted by the BBC, it looks like NortonLifeLock will get around the problem by combining miners’ computing power into a “pool” and divvying up earnings. Problem is, it’s common for crypto pools to have a 1% fee. If Norton Crypto relies on such a system, then NortonLifeLock could develop an extremely lucrative revenue stream at the expense of its customers’ computer hardware and naïvety.
Norton Crypto is now available for select customers in the Norton 360 early adopter program. The mining tool will roll out to regular customers over the coming weeks. If you want to start mining crypto and don’t mind paying around $100 a year for Norton 360, you can sign up on the company’s website.