In an effort to partially mitigate the market chaos that has come from the cryptocurrency mining boom over the last 6 months, last month NVIDIA very publicly introduced a mining throttling mechanism for its then-new GeForce RTX 3060 cards. By throttling the performance of Ethereum mining on these cards to half their native rate, it would ideally keep miners from immediately snapping up any (and every) RTX 3060 card in search for a profit, leaving more available for NVIDIA’s gaming customers. Essentially a software security/DRM system, the success of NVIDIA’s effort would hinge largely on ensuring the underlying throttling mechanism remain undefeated – an effort that has significantly fumbled after NVIDIA accidentally released a driver without the complete throttling code.
As part of the development of their upcoming Release 470 driver branch, last week NVIDIA released driver 470.05 to developers and Windows Insiders. Among other things, this development driver enabled CUDA support on the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2) for the first time. Unfortunately, this driver didn’t include the complete throttling code for Ethereum, and as a result it’s possible to use the driver to mine the cryptocoin on RTX 3060 cards at their full (native) rate.
The news was initially broken by HardwareLuxx and ComputerBase, who had the driver and were able to confirm that they were no longer getting throttled with the new driver. NVIDIA in turn has since confirmed the matter as well, sending a statement out to various members of the press that “A developer driver inadvertently included code used for internal development which removes the hash rate limiter on RTX 3060 in some configurations. The driver has been removed.”
Unfortunately, this is a prime, real-world example of how software security (and DRM-like systems) are only as strong as their weakest link – in this case NVIDIA’s driver team. NVIDIA security mechanisms rely on signature checks for the BIOS and drivers to prevent bypassing the throttling mechanism, but since this is a signed, legitimate NVIDIA driver to begin with, it is readily accepted by the card. And since the driver doesn’t have a timebomb on it, the genie is out of the bottle, as it were. Windows cryptominers should be able to use the driver with RTX 3060 cards indefinitely, and since the driver was widely released there’s no possibility to preventing its re-distribution.
The silver(ish) lining to this otherwise bad news is that it could have been even worse for NVIDIA. This driver was for Windows and not for Linux, with the latter being the preferred platform for industrial miners. Furthermore there are apparently other mining-checks in the driver that do still work (e.g. checking the PCIe link width), so NVIDIA’s anti-Ethereum throttle for the RTX 3060 is not completely broken. It has, however, had a massive chunk taken out of it with this driver release.
All of which means that the ongoing chip crunch has just become all that more severe for gamers and other video card buyers. With an unthrottled RTX 3060 able to pull in around $5/day in profit, the card risks being a reasonably attractive offering for miners looking to make a quick buck.