An independent game that has been available on digital distribution platform Steam since March reportedly contains a crypto miner. Steam’s developer, Valve, has not made any public statements on the matter, although it has removed the game, ‘Abstractism’, from the Steam store; links to the game’s page instead redirect to Steam’s home page.
The game apparently contains a crypto miner disguised as a Steam background task. That program is detected as a Trojan by some anti-virus applications, meaning that the miner is recognizable enough that it probably exists elsewhere. However, anti-virus suites also mark legitimate miners as threats, making it difficult to tell whether the game simply tells a bundled miner to run, or if it is a more dangerous breed of cryptomining malware.
SidAlpha, a YouTube game commentator, initially found and reported on the game. Various commenters on Twitter and YouTube ran diagnostics, which indicated that the game was about as processor-intensive as a crypto miner would be—far too intensive for the game’s quality. Most damning is the fact that in deleted Steam comments, the developer had admitted that the game mines Monero.
This phenomenon, known as cryptojacking, has steadily grown and is making its way into gaming. One gaming league company was sued in 2013 for inserting a Bitcoin miner into their software. Likewise, an individual was sued for distributing a cryptominer as a downloadable cheat last year. It’s not just a problem for games, though; browser add-ons often contain miners, which has led Google to ban countless plug-ins on the Chrome Web Store.
Some have even suggested that cryptomining would be an acceptable business model if it were disclosed to customers—presumably, many people would rather pay for things with their processor than their wallet.
Steam’s problem is larger than crypto mining, though. Valve has been widely criticized for its hands-off policy that allows individuals to publish fake games with other dubious revenue models. It’s not clear how much this particular miner made—the game was not particularly popular and the miner may not have spread as a virus. Nevertheless, bad actors will surely continue to attempt to exploit opportunities like this as long as they remain plausibly profitable.
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