µTorrent's Shady Bitcoin-Mining Program Could Blow Up Your Computer
Uninstall it, now.
For roughly a decade, µTorrent has been, if not the best torrent download client, certainly one of the most attractive. It has well over 100 million users, who have been lured in by the program's small file size, unobtrusive nature, and well-designed powerful interface.
You should uninstall it, right now.
Packaged with the latest version of µTorrent is a program called Epic Scale, a surreptitious digital currency miner that secretly uses your computer's processing power in order to make money for µTorrent and Epic Scale.
There is a clause in Epic Scale's policy that says its software might literally destroy your computer.
From Epic Scale's terms of service:
"You release Epic Scale and its agents … from and against all claims ... arising from or related to (i) the use of the Application on your computer, including without limitation any blowouts or other damage to your computer from overheating due to intensive use of graphics cards or chips, or any slowing of your processing speed."
The shady package was discovered and posted on the µTorrent forums by a user named Groundrunner, who said that the program installed itself without prompting.
"It's easily noticeable by the increased CPU load when the computer is idle," Groundrunner wrote in the post.
An administrator for µTorrent confirmed that the program was, in fact, being installed on Windows machines, where it was generating Litecoin (which is similar to Bitcoin) and sending them back to µTorrent and Epic Scale. The program could be uninstalled, but only if you actually realized it existed in the first place.
"Epic Scale is a cryptocurrency miner that uses a portion of your CPU cycles to contribute to the mining effort. A portion of the proceeds from this effort go to philanthropic initiatives," the admin wrote. "Epic Scale is a great partner for us to continue to generate revenue for the company, while contributing funds to good causes. 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."
The program doesn't install itself silently, as many other websites have reported, however. It's part of the standard installation process that µTorrent has turned into its main source of revenue. It's one of three separate pieces of not-so-great software you can easily install by clicking the wrong button. And, wow, if you mistakenly do this, you're in for a treat.
From Epic Scale's agreement:
"We may use your computer's processing power, network connection, memory and storage for various purposes, including, but not limited to, cryptocurrency mining, data processing, data analysis and/or scientific research and development."
You are also giving Epic Scale access to your data and personal information.
Christian Averill, a spokesperson for BitTorrent, which owns µTorrent, said that the company takes "claims of silent installs very seriously" and noted that anyone installing this "is accepting the offer separately from our software. These are strictly opt-in."
"I mean with every install you make, you need to look at what you're clicking on and be mindful of that," he said. "There's a clear accept, do not accept tab."
If we're sticking strictly to the facts, he's right about that. Except the "Accept/Do Not Accept" tabs are very similar to the ones you need to simply install the program without bloatware, and Epic Scale isn't really sold as being something that could potentially destroy your computer.
Epic Scale, as a program that someone consciously downloads, installs, and runs when they want it to run, sounds like it's fine. But as a program that's installed with other software at the mere click of the button, one that is probably running on, Averill said, literally millions of computers in order to make other people money, it's a nightmare. Besides being a privacy invasion and a potential security risk, the program slows down your computer, wasting power and giving cryptocurrency to someone else.
Someone purporting to be a founder of Epic Scale noted in a comment thread where users were complaining about the software that it does "use the PC at a low level when it's in use. Many users only use a fraction of their computation resources (email, Microsoft word, etc.) If the user is trying to do something intensive, we stop running."
Further, Epic Scale says it donates a "high portion" of money to charity, but hasn't said what that percentage is (a list of charities is here) and hasn't provided any proof of it doing so.
All of this is to say, there are other BitTorrent clients out there that do the exact same thing as µTorrent, without the bloatware. µTorrent has been slowly sliding downhill for years—safely installing it on Windows without accidentally adding some terrible, difficult-to-remove toolbar or bloatware is a nightmare, requiring you to click through a series of confusingly-worded prompts.
On Mac, the only thing it asks you to install is a (terrible) Yahoo toolbar, but that, too, is in a prompt that has been modified to look like an official terms of service prompt.
So, uninstall µTorrent, and don't look back. Transmission has been around for a very long time and is still good. Deluge is cross-platform torrenting software that is also very good, as is Vuze (which used to be known as Azureus and was very popular back in the day). Or, if you must, download an old version of µTorrent and don't ever, ever upgrade it.