Norton has come under fire for including a crypto miner alongside its Norton 360 security software. Activists like Cory Doctorow claimed that the company “sneakily installs cryptomining software on your computer” and takes a commission on profits, and outlets like PC Mag, Krebs on security, and Digital trends have also written about users expressing frustration when trying to uninstall it. While there is more than a grain of truth to these claims, we have dug it ourselves and found that they are exaggerated.

Last summer, Norton announced very publicly that it was adding a crypto miner to its Norton 360 security suite, promoting it as a safer alternative for trying to install complex and “unverified” mining programs from from the Internet. It was initially only available to a limited number of users, but now appears to be available to anyone who installs the program – but in the roughly six months since the announcement, there hasn’t been much talk about the software until this week.

Now it’s suddenly the center of a backlash, with some Twitter users accusing Norton of install a crypto miner on users’ computers without any warning. In a very technical sense, it’s true – my colleague Sean Hollister installed a copy of Norton 360 for himself and actually found out that the NCrypt.exe mining application was included in the program directory.

However, this does not mean that Norton will automatically start mining on your computer, as some seem to believe. Norton FAQ says that it will not be operated without authorization and that “in addition to having a device that meets the system requirements, you must also activate Norton Crypto on your device”. Sean says that as far as he can tell, it seemed to be true; the feature did not activate surreptitiously after installing Norton. He didn’t open up until he asked her to.

The TL; DR is that yes, Norton installs a crypto miner with its software, without specifying it during the initial setup process. But it won’t do anything unless you specifically agree to it, so this is not a situation where you will install the security suite and instantly start seeing your computer lagging behind as it processes the crypto backwards. -plan.

A spokesperson for NortonLifeLock also said The edge in an email you can completely remove NCrypt.exe by temporarily turn off Norton’s Tamper Protection feature, then deleting the executable. We’ve confirmed this ourselves, and it could be good news for anyone concerned about Norton’s remote activation of the feature.

We asked Norton if they would commit to the feature still being optional, and spokesperson Spring Harris told us that “[the] The feature requires special device hardware and user consent to operate. We are transparent about how our software works on user devices and we have no intention of changing that.

None of this is to defend Norton’s inclusion of a crypto miner in its security suite – it’s just to explain what’s going on and what isn’t.

As mentioned before, we installed Norton ourselves to get first-hand experience with the miner. While the service can be enabled, Norton doesn’t make it hard to find – when Sean installed the software, his control panel had a large green banner at the top with the text “Turn your PC’s idle time into cash.” “. Clicking the “show me how” button shows you a slideshow about the feature, a large “Agree and Start” button, and smaller text telling you that the feature you are enabling is Norton Crypto.

Norton Crypto is not a hard to find feature.
Screenshot: Sean Hollister / The Verge

Norton promises that it will only be mine when you’re not using your computer otherwise (and you can manually pause it if needed).
Screenshot: Sean Hollister / The Verge

After activating Norton Crypto, it will create a wallet for you and immediately start using your computer’s GPU to mine Ethereum (its Required configuration say you need an Nvidia or AMD card with at least 6 GB of memory). All winnings will be periodically deposited into the wallet set up for you, and once you reach a minimum threshold you will be able to withdraw your earnings on Coinbase.

Norton urges people to use the feature. Like BipComputer pointed out when he tried the software last year, Norton takes 15% of all the income you make from mining. Without delving too deeply into how mining works, Norton Crypto Terms of use (PDF) say he runs a mining pool, which combines everyone’s computing power to increase the odds of mining a block – when that happens, everyone who has contributed to the power gets a share of the reward. It is this award that Norton gets its share of.

Pool operators often take a discount or a fee to get everyone together. However, the fees are usually closer to 1 or 2 percent, which is obviously significantly lower. And, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: Anyone using Norton’s software to mine has already paid the company a subscription for its security software (and after purchasing a copy, we Also had to provide our payment information so that it can renew automatically every year).

Is the reward of mining good enough that you can ignore the high fees or see them as a cost of convenience so you don’t have to figure out how to join a pool on your own (which is usually a reasonably process? technical)? We tried it out ourselves by measuring electricity use with a Kill-A-Watt meter. The results? With the current difficulty of mining a block and the prices of Ethereum, we have completely reached the breakeven point for what we earned versus what we paid for electricity. In real numbers, one night of mining on an RTX 3060 Ti brought in 0.66 Cents Ethereum and cost $ 0.66 in off-peak electricity. Norton took all the profits.

Norton tells you how much you’ve earned and gives you projected income.
Screenshot: Sean Hollister / The Verge

Given The edgethe policy of against holding cryptocurrency, we will immediately give up the fraction of an ETH we earned in our test.

Even if you had stronger mining equipment and cheaper electricity, Norton’s model could prove to be a tough deal. It deposits your share of Ethereum into your Norton Crypto wallet, but if you want to use it or exchange it for fiat money, you will need to cash it out – currently the only option for that is to transfer it to an account. Coinbase. However, this will incur transaction fees (also known as gas fees) charged by the Ethereum network itself. This could mean that you will have to mine a lot of crypto before it makes financial sense to remove it from your Norton wallet.

The deal looks a lot better on Norton’s side, however – as is often the case with crypto, scale is key here. While using the feature may not be particularly profitable for an individual, if a lot of people try it, Norton’s cut could be a significant sum. It’s hard to say if that will be enough to make up for the PR success the company has gotten from this feature – but even ignoring Twitter, users on Norton’s own Crypto Forum doesn’t seem particularly happy with how it turned out.