Is Norton Antivirus mining cryptocurrency on your computer without permission?

Norton antivirus and cryptocurrency mining
Backlash about the software went viral on Twitter late last week. Photo credit: Getty Images

Last week a number of tweets were sent criticising online security company Norton for installing cryptocurrency mining software without users' permission.

This included one from Cory Doctorow, author and famed tech activist, describing it as "f***ing wild".

"Norton 'Antivirus' now sneakily installs crypto mining software on your computer, and then skims a commission," he wrote.

That caused a backlash and got the topic trending and tweets going viral.

And while it's true that Norton does install software that allows users to mine for cryptocurrency when their computer is idle, what was missed was this happened in the middle of last year.

The news was first announced last June when Norton rolled out the feature to those in their early adopter programme and Norton 360 for Gaming subscribers, including those in Aotearoa.

Other information shared proved inaccurate.

"There is no way to prevent it from installing on your system or disabling it," one popular tweet said, while others shared that it was switched on by default and without users' knowledge.

So what's the truth?

According to website The Verge, a NortonLifeLock spokesperson said the NCrypt.exe file can be completely removed by temporarily turning off Norton’s tamper protection feature, then deleting the file.

The company has also updated its FAQ to confirm that mining doesn't occur without the user giving explicit permission.

"In addition to having a device that meets system requirements, you must also turn on Norton Crypto on your device," the FAQ states.

"If you have turned on Norton Crypto, but you no longer want to use the feature, you can disable it through your Norton Crypto dashboard."

However, one element of the criticism is true: If you do choose to mine cryptocurrency using the software, Norton does take a commission. In this case it's 15 percent, a large incentive to encourage people to allow mining.

Norton is effectively running a 'mining pool', where everyone's computer power is combined to increase the chances of mining a block and getting the reward for doing so. 

The Verge reports that pool operators typically take a fee for this service - but the standard is around one to two percent. It also pointed out that Norton customers already pay a subscription fee for the software, so this could be seen as double-dipping.

When The Verge asked Norton if it pledged the feature would always be opt-in, spokesperson Spring Harris told the website the "feature requires special device hardware and user consent to function".

"We are transparent about how our software performs on user devices and we have no intention of changing this."