Saturday, March 7, 2015

Shame on You, uTorrent!

The popular BitTorrent client uTorrent is facing a backlash after allegedly trying to turn a buck through cryptocurrency mining.

I like uTorrent, and I prefer this BitTorrent client to all others for many years. However, with all the recent story development, I doubt it can be trusted.

This Thursday, users started reporting that uTorrent had silently installed cryptocurrency software from Epic Scale as part of version 3.4.2 build 28913. Once installed, Epic Scale uses some of the computer's spare processing power to generate cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin or Litecoin).

In response to user complaints, uTorrent manager confirmed parent company BitTorrent's partnership with Epic Scale, saying the software generates revenue for uTorrent while also contributing some funds to charity. “In the future, Epic Scale plans to contribute CPU cycles to other initiatives, such as Genome mapping and other academic studies that require a great deal of processing power.”

However, the manager denied that EpicScale was installing without the user's permission, claiming that uTorrent could not reproduce the issue. That is despite complaints from five users on uTorrent's forums who say the software was installed automatically in the latest update.

uTorrent is a free application and it brings in revenue through in-app advertising, presenting users with “offers” to try out third-party software when installed or updated. These offers are usually not placed on users’ machines without consent, but this week many users began complaining about a “rogue” offer being silently installed.

If you got it as well, you can partially uninstall EpicScale through the Add/Remove Programs menu in Windows. A registry modification will remain in the ProgramData/Epicscale folder, though you can safely delete this folder once the uninstall is complete.

Note that Epic Scale’s software runs only on Windows machines. It is supposed to use the CPU when it is inactive to generate Litecoins, an alternative to bitcoins that are worth less but designed to be confirmed more quickly when used for transactions.

Epic Scale wants to put users’ computers to work in other areas beyond cryptocurrency and donate money to charities in the process. The company has partnered with research organizations such as the University of California, San Francisco, to help with genomic computations.

Epic Scale did not address the silent download complaints in its post with BitTorrent. But “Epic Scale strongly believes in opt-in installs only,” CEO Tim Olson said via email. The company has received about a dozen emails from affected users and is working with BitTorrent to review the claims, he said.

In the FreeFixer thread, an Epic Scale employee acknowledged the problem. “I recognize many of you are reporting a silent install. We are going to address this with all our distribution partners and determine what’s going on (technical or otherwise),” the employee wrote, providing the email address

Why this matters: Cryptocurrency mining burns more than just spare system resources. By making the CPU work harder than it normally would, it also consumes more energy, potentially raising users' electricity bills. In any case, it is against the rules and the users will to perform silent installations on the computers. No matter what were the intentions, and how noble the purpose is.

BTW, I check and personally did not find any stealth software on my computer, even thou I have updated uTorrent recently.

Sources and Additional Information:

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