Microsoft makes changes to Edge browser to thwart illicit miners

Microsoft is trying to make it more difficult for unscrupulous and unethical players to install cryptocurrency miners on computers without users’ knowledge. The company has announced via a blog post that it has added new features to its Edge web browser that are designed to prevent users from unwittingly downloading and installing potentially unwanted applications. Among these would be cryptojacking malware, adware and other potentially security-breaching applications. 

The Microsoft Edge Team explains in its post, “Our customer feedback tells us that when users search for free versions of software, they often find applications with a poor reputation being installed on the machine at the same time. This pattern indicates that the user has downloaded an application which shows offers (or bundles) for potentially unwanted applications (PUA).” These PUAs can slow down computers and lead to the machines carrying out potentially illicit activity without the user’s knowledge. 

Microsoft hopes that the new Edge browser, version 80.0.338.0, will help curtail some of these damning applications and add-ons. The new version will automatically block them from being downloaded once it’s activated by the user. The feature is, by default, turned off, but can easily be activated in the Privacy and security configuration in Edge’s settings. For the function to work properly, Microsoft Defender SmartScreen must also be activated. 

The incoming PUA will be blocked, but users are given the option to allow it through. Once a warning appears about the potential threat, the user can select “Keep anyway” to allow the process to be downloaded and installed. Microsoft also gives users the ability to report a false hit and explains in its blog post, “From edge://downloads/, users can also choose Report this app as reputable, which will direct them to our feedback site. There, users can let us know that they think the app is mistakenly marked as PUA.”

A cryptocurrency miner can drastically slow down a normal computer and the user may not even realize it’s present. It can also lead to increased energy bills, which makes it a double threat – the user pays more for electricity while not reaping any of the benefits associated with the mining activity. 

The majority of the crypto malware floating around today is found on free sites; however, this isn’t always the case. Several apps that were approved by Microsoft to be listed on the Microsoft Store were found to include Coinhive, a mining script for Monero that has since reportedly shut down operations. The apps were eventually removed, but only after Microsoft was informed by an independent source. 

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