College dorms are increasingly being used for cryptomining. The process of mining for cryptocurrency involves the use of idle computing power to verify transactions on the blockchain. Miners who are able to solve the complicated math problems called ‘proof of work’ that verify a transaction get a cut of the transaction as a reward.
College students are getting into the game, according to a study released this week by cybersecurity firm Vectra. Vectra found that around 60% of mining traffic is coming from computers with IP addresses connected to college and university campuses. The next highest industry, according to Vectra, at only 3% was health care. Geographically, most of the cryptomining traffic in the world originates from Asia (76%) with North America following at 20% and Europe just providing around 4%.
Joey Dilliha, an 18-year-old freshman at Western Kentucky University told Marketwatch he was making around $30 a week on his Bitmain Antminer rig just by leaving it turned on in his dorm room and running it on the school’s free electricity supply. Dilliha bought the rig on EBay for $250 and so far has made $180 in profit.
“I believe more people should be doing it,” Dilliha told MarketWatch. “It’s a super fun, and cool cheap way to be introduced to the market of mining.”
Mining uses a lot of computing power: around 215 kilowatt-hours of energy per transaction. Mining a single bitcoin can cost from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the cost of electricity in a state.
“Students are more likely to perform crypto mining personally as they don’t pay for power, the primary cost of crypto mining,” Chris Morales, head of security analytics at Vectra said.
Certain schools have banned cryptomining on their campuses, including Stanford University who warned in a blog post earlier this year that cryptomining had led to “compromised systems, misused university computing equipment, and personally owned mining devices using campus power.” The university also advised students to regularly apply software patches in order to prevent their systems from being commandeered by outsiders.
Indeed, it appears that hackers may be a large source of the mining traffic originating on college campuses. Students are a target for hackers as they are both more likely to go to questionable websites to access illegal downloads, such as movies, music and software; and universities have high bandwidth capacity to accommodate the numbers of students using the web. Furthermore, it is more difficult to impose security controls on students using their personal devices than it is to issue certain regulations in a business environment to employees.
Morales advised that at best, universities can “advise students on how to protect themselves and the university by installing operating system patches and creating awareness of phishing emails, suspicious websites and web ads.”