Russian Nuclear Scientists Caught Mining Cryptocurrencies Using Supercomputer

Nuno Menezes

Mining cryptocurrencies is a very profitable endeavour, especially if you are not paying for hardware and energy. This was exactly what Soviet scientists working at a top-secret Russian Nuclear facility were trying to do.

Interfax news agency

reported that several scientists working at a top-secret Russian nuclear warhead facility have been arrested for allegedly mining crypto-currencies. It seems they have tried to use one of the country's most powerful supercomputers to mine Bitcoins. This happened is a restricted area in western Russia, most precisely in Sarov at the Federal Nuclear Centre.

The Federal Nuclear Centre press service announced:

"There has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining. As far as we are aware, a criminal case has been launched against them”

Federal Nuclear Centre Press Service

The Sarov Federal Nuclear Centre

During the Cold War, the USSR's first nuclear bomb was produced at Sarov, over Joseph Stalin's rule. The government controls who gets acess and special permits are still required for Russians to visit it. Sarov is surrounded by a tightly guarded no-man's-land, with barbed wire fences to keep the curious away.

Sarov was also in the center of attention in 2006 when the former Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London. The investigations going around the crime had strong suspicions that the radioactive polonium-210 used to kill Litvinenko came from Sarov.

Currently, the Federal Nuclear Centre employs up to 20,000 people and its supercomputer boasts a capacity of 1 petaflop, the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

The suspects got caught when the  supercomputer was linked to the internet triggering the security alarm, alerting the nuclear centre's security department. The scientists were caught and then handed over to the FSB.

Financial Incentive

Despite the bearish trend in Bitcoin value, its price has appreciated 10x over 2017 which makes mining an extremely lucrative business. Mining cryptocurrencies require huge amounts of computational power and lots and lots of energy. The pseudo anonymous nature of bitcoin makes it useful currency to steal. Coupled with the free electricity and hardware there is no wonder these scientists have tried their luck using the country’s top supercomputer.

While this is the only event reported in a government facility, there are reports of similar events in other industrial facilities being used for cryptocurrency mining in Russia. One businessman is said to have bought two power stations for the purpose of mining cryptocurrencies.