A competitive gaming company has admitted that for two weeks in April its software client was hijacking league members' PCs to mine Bitcoins.
In an eyebrow-raising turn of events, the company, ESEA Gaming, admitted on Wednesday that its software client had been running Bitcoin-mining algorithms on customer PCs since April 14, generating over $3,700 worth of the virtual currency – not to mention a likely uptick in the electricity bills of the unwitting punters whose graphics cards' GPUs been forced to mine the virtual currency.
ESEA is a competitive gaming company that lets paying punters play various video games competitively, with the chance of a cash prize as they rise through the ranks. It uses a bespoke software client to prevent cheating, and it was this software client that was loaded with Bitcoin mining routines.
The Bitcoin mining software had been originally rolled out in a test on ESEA Gaming admin accounts, the company's co-founder Eric Thunberg explained in a forum post using the handle lpkane. But the test didn't generate many Bitcoins (two in two days) and was shut down – or so Thunberg thought.
In fact, the miner wasn't shut down. Rather, it was rolled out across ESEA's entire user base.
An ESEA employee who was involved in the tests "has been using the test code for his own personal gain since April 13, 2013," the company wrote in an official statement on Monday. "We are extremely disappointed and concerned by the unauthorized actions of this unauthorized individual. As of this morning, ESEA has made sure that all Bitcoin mining has stopped. ESEA is also in the process of taking all necessary steps internally to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."
The program used player GPUs to perform the complex mathematical operations required to mine Bitcoins, and generated 29.27627734 Bitcoins for the ESEA employee.
ESEA became aware of the Bitcoin mining after concerned users made posts to the forum complaining of high GPU utilization, even when idle.
The unauthorized two-week long spell of mining apparently took Thunberg by surprise, who wrote in a later post to the forum:
as of the client update released in the last hour, all the btc stuff is out which should solve the gpu and av warnings, and in a blatant attempt to buy back your love (and less likely your trust), i'm going to do the following:
1. 100% of the funds are going into the s14 prize pot, so at the very least your melted gpus contributed to a good cause
2. every user who was premium this month will get a free one month premium code which they can use whenever and for whomever they like, and you'll find the code under manage accounts -> premium codes
Along with the prize pot, ESEA gaming is also donating double the value of the mined Bitcoins – $7,427.10 at current market rates – to the American Cancer Society.
"While it's incredibly disturbing and disappointing that this happened, we’re committed to improving ourselves and rebuilding trust with our community," the company wrote.
The case serves to highlight how the virtual currency's recent dramatic rise in valuation relative to the US dollar has attracted speculators, chancers, and criminals in droves. The ESEA case follows the re-emergence of Bitcoin-mining malware earlier in April, along with a variety of other money-grubbing squint-and-they're-legal schemes.
"If we had found out on our own that the miner was running we would have killed it anyway because a) we'd already decided it wasn't worth it, and b) there are far less shady ways to make money," Thunberg wrote in reply to a forum user. ®