The Japanese Police have been cracking down on users of remote mining software apps, such as Coinhive, without their website visitors’ consent. After being investigated and having their property impounded, users are speaking up about the unfairness of the investigation.
Problems with the Investigations and Arrests
The Japanese police have been actively investigating website owners using programs such as Coinhive to mine cryptocurrencies without their site visitors’ consent. Recently, the police from 10 prefectures reportedly caught 16 people using such programs; three were arrested while the others had their information sent to the prosecutors.
However, some experts are voicing concerns about how the police handle these cases. Famous Japanese security researcher Dr. Takagi Hiromitsu recently pointed out a few key problems. Firstly, he noted that the police only started investigating Coinhive after antivirus software companies declared Coinhive to be a virus. In addition, most articles about Coinhive in Japan are based on interviews with a major anti-virus firm, Trend Micro. Dr. Takagi explained (loosely translated):
It’s a simple story, antivirus software dealers are profitable enough to threaten people. In this way, it encourages everything as a cyber crime and advertises its own products.
Another problem is that the police in many prefectures are not accustomed to dealing with cybercrime, unlike the Tokyo police. A recent notice posted by the Metropolitan police department warns website operators considering installing mining tools that:
Even in the case of installing on a website operated by himself / herself, there is a possibility of [it] becoming a crime when installing a mining tool without clearly indicating to the viewers that the mining tool is installed.
With just a “possibility” of it being a crime, the police started investigating and making arrests, a Coinhive user who claims to be under investigation told news.Bitcoin.com, emphasizing that the police made arrests based solely on their opinion with no clarity of the law.
He elaborated, “People currently being investigated or arrested are primarily those who began using Coinhive since last September” and some have already stopped using the program long before the police started the investigations. “The possibility of Coinhive being a crime wasn’t pointed out until a Nikkei article of Dec 10,” he said.
Furthermore, he explained that the Japanese media coverage is often one-sided, painting a picture of Coinhive based on the police’s interpretation. “Some Japanese television and newspapers don’t understand what the problem is.”
The Story of Moro-san
A Japanese freelance designer who previously used Coinhive on his website, Moro-san, recently shared his story and experience in dealing with the Kanagawa prefectural police. Kanagawa is a coastal prefecture south of Tokyo; its capital city is Yokohama. Moro-san wrote:
It’s embarrassing. It was the first time in my life to be taken in by the police.
He started using Coinhive in late September last year but removed it from his website in early November. Three months later, in early February, he received a call from the police while at work in Shibuya. They immediately headed to his workplace, brought him back to his house, showed him a search warrant and started searching his house. Other than the charge of violating a law that bans the deployment of computer viruses, they did not offer any other explanations, Moro-san described.
The police proceeded to question him about his website. “After several hours of interrogation I realized that Coinhive seemed to be the cause,” Moro-san detailed, adding that the police then “checked [his] server information and each account information, etc.” After about 10 hours of interrogation and searches, “One desktop PC, one laptop, [and] one smartphone were confiscated.” The police left at about 9 p.m., saying they will contact him back “at a later date.”
In early March, Moro-san was interrogated again at the Kanagawa prefecture police station. The police asked him about his usage of Coinhive, took his fingerprints and measurements. The interrogation began in the morning and continued through the afternoon.
After it was over, Moro-san was released around 5 p.m. with seized items returned to him except his desktop PC, which was returned at a later date with all data including the OS deleted.
In late March, Moro-san was briefly interrogated at the Public Prosecutors Office and was fined 100,000 yen (~US$909). “I’m exhausted both mentally and physically at this point, I let myself go with the flow,” he described. He also shared:
The final profit obtained from Coinhive was less than 1,000 yen [~$9]. (Since the minimum withdrawal was from about 5,000 yen [~$45], real profit is 0).
What do you think of how the police handle the Coinhive cases? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Coinhive. Editor’s Note: Some statements have been translated from Japanese. Translation help by “VHGad3WzZolyYx”.
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