I had been considering the cybersecurity impacts of cryptocurrency mining for several weeks when I saw the recent episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley, where it served as a laugh-out-loud recurring gag.
Throughout the episode, the character Gilfoyle — a gruff, deadpan systems architect — keeps unnerving his coworkers with a jarring blast of the two-second song “You Suffer” by British extreme metal band Napalm Death.
“It’s an alert,” Gilfoyle explains. “Whenever the price of bitcoin dips below a certain value, it is no longer efficient to mine. When it comes back up, it is. I need to know when it breaks that threshold so I can remotely toggle my rig at home … bitcoin is very volatile.”
Clearly, mining bitcoin is now decidedly mainstream, and not just for comedy gold. For many organizations, bitcoin mining gets less amusing as it increasingly forms the motivation for malware and cyberattacks.
When episode writer Carrie Kemper uses the word “volatile,” though, it is an understatement. In April 2015, the value of bitcoin hovered around $230. Last December, it hit a high of nearly $20,000. The following February, it was down to $7,000.
When its value was a couple hundred dollars, bitcoin “mining” wasn’t cost-efficient. It requires a fast internet connection, creates electricity costs through power consumption and cooling, depletes storage space and takes time. When the value of a single bitcoin began to skyrocket, so did the profitability of bitcoin mining — and investment in it.
Couple that rising value with increased competition and a depleting supply of bitcoins and the result is an increasingly serious cybersecurity problem.