NortonLifeLock, a company whose software you know from such thrilling scenarios as, “Oh God, my parents bought an OEM PC,” and “Can you please make this software stop begging me to buy it,” has announced it will soon allow end users to mine cryptocurrency.
“As the crypto economy continues to become a more important part of our customers’ lives, we want to empower them to mine cryptocurrency with Norton, a brand they trust,” said Vincent Pilette, CEO of NortonLifeLock, and an individual with an arguably poor understanding of how computer enthusiasts feel about his company. “Norton Crypto is yet another innovative example of how we are expanding our Cyber Safety platform to protect our customers’ ever-evolving digital lives.”
According to NortonLifeLock, mining cryptocurrency on your PC under its Norton 360 app is part of being safe because antivirus software often flags mining applications as being potentially unwanted software. The company claims:
For years, many coinminers have had to take risks in their quest for cryptocurrency, disabling their security in order to run coinmining and allowing unvetted code on their machines that could be skimming from their earnings or even planting ransomware.
It’s true that downloading applications with no regard for where they come from can expose one to malware, but I’ve not heard of any particular requirement to turn off fundamental system security components in order to mine cryptocurrency. At most, you might need to whitelist a specific program as not being malware.
Ransomware, meanwhile, is far more of a corporate problem than a personal one. Unless you merely go by John Doe while secretly hiding your real name, GREATER MEDICAL CONGLOMERATE INC, you probably don’t have much to worry about.
I don’t mean to imply products such as these are completely without value, or that they tend to ship on the kind of systems that couldn’t mine a Bitcoin before the heat death of our Sun. But I would like to echo Nerdwallet’s observation that, “You can perform many of LifeLock’s identity theft protection services on your own, for free.”
Windows ships with a capable baked-in antivirus solution already. Free AV solutions are available, for those who don’t want to use the Microsoft default. Norton 360’s security and malware protections are well-ranked according to AV-Comparatives, but whether that makes them worth paying for is very much a personal question.
This does not make LifeLock useless — perhaps you want someone to automate some identity protection features for you — but it’s best evaluated in whether it makes your life easier, as opposed to whether it provides a feature or service you can’t get elsewhere. It has far more of the former than the latter.
And more to the point, we don’t really need a security company setting itself up as a cloud provider for cryptocurrency mining. The idea that mining with Norton is somehow more secure than mining with another company rests entirely on your willingness to trust Norton — not just a provider of security software, which they’ve done for decades, but as a cloud wallet provider for cryptocurrency. For now, only Ethereum will be supported, but other currencies may be added in the future.
This idea assumes you want to tie your cryptocurrency mining to the “Norton Crypto Wallet.” Do customers retain access to their Norton Crypto Wallets if they stop paying for Norton? Does Norton take a cut of what you mine? Is shipping laptops and desktops with crypto mining software on them without making certain the hardware is actually vetted for the workload a good idea? Are we going to see end-users encouraged to set up this feature on their systems when they buy them, without regard for the impact on their hardware longevity?
Norton, presumably, will be pooling its miners together. The company might not take a cut for itself, but if it does, you’d be paying Norton a monthly fee for the privilege of donating cryptocurrency to it. Cryptocurrency that could potentially appreciate in value. A lot.
Finally: I cannot, in good conscience, recommend a Norton product, but I have to acknowledge my opinion is not based on recent data. It has been years since I ran a third-party AV solution from the likes of Norton or McAfee. I became overwhelmingly frustrated with the terrible ways these applications were designed most of a decade ago. I do not leave them installed on the systems I purchase. I do not install them. I do not recommend that my friends, family, or readers install or use them. I took an informal poll of acquaintances. Out of the 12 people who responded, none viewed Norton positively, including some who had used the company’s products as recently as last week.
I will not impugn the technical quality of Norton’s AV scanning or its ability to detect malware, but I wouldn’t use the company’s products for free unless I had to. I certainly wouldn’t pay for the privilege. Hopefully, Norton has improved the situation, but I will not be finding out. I will not be suggesting you find out, either.