Several nuclear scientists working at the Federal Nuclear Centre in Sarov, Russia have been arrested for attempting to use the facility’s supercomputer to mine bitcoin, a process known as ‘cryptojacking’. The BBC reports the Federal Nuclear Centre press service statement indicating that “there has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining”.
The Russian Federal Nuclear Centre produced the USSR’s first nuclear bomb. The facility describes itself as the “largest research center in Russia that successfully addresses defense, science and national economy problems”.
The scientists attempted to divert the facility’s powerful supercomputer to perform bitcoin mining calculations. Bitcoin mining requires intensive energy use and computational power. The supercomputer at the Federal Nuclear Centre is reported to have a 1 petaflop computational capacity. To put that number into perspective, 1 petaflop of performance per second is equivalent to a human performing one calculation per second for 31,688,765 years (supercomputer performance explained)! It would take 1,000 of Intel’s new core i9 X-series cpu to be equivalent to 1 petaflop of performance (at a cost of approximately $1,000,000).
The scientists’ plot was foiled when attempting to connect the supercomputer to the internet. Bitcoin mining requires computers to communicate with each other during the mining process. This attempt to connect to the internet, potentially exposing the nuclear facility to security risks, was detected by the facility’s security service. The supercomputer is not normally connected to the internet for security reasons.
The scientists were taken into custody by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and a criminal case has been launched (BBC). It is currently unknown what charges the scientists will face or how much potential jail time they could get if convicted.
Cryptojacking For Fun, Profit, And Jail Time
The lure of diverting resources to mine bitcoin for personal gain has been frequently reported before. One common scheme is to infect users computers through malware to mine bitcoin, a process which has been coined cryptojacking. Cryptojacking can lead to performance degradation and potential damage to the infected computer. Cloud services, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), have also been penetrated by hackers to illicitly mine bitcoin.
Stealing of electricity to power bitcoin mining is also frequently reported. Some bitcoin mining equipment costs more in electricity to run than it generates in bitcoin value. When using this obsolete equipment the only way to profit is through reduced energy cost.
One Tesla owner filled their trunk with bitcoin mining equipment and hooked their car up to a free charging station to mine bitcoin with no electricity cost. This week an apartment complex in Artem, Russia caught fire due to a suspected bitcoin mining operation which may have been inappropriately using the complex’s electricity. Fortunately no casualties were reported.
As bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies continue to rise, in both price and attention, there will surely be more cases of people attempting to make a quick profit in mining by using illegal and/or unethical means.
Financial Disclosure: The author holds long positions in Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. The author holds no short positions.