Russian Engineers Caught Using State Supercomputer to Mine Bitcoin

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Employees of the Russian Nuclear Center in Sarov have been caught using the facility’s supercomputer to mine Bitcoin.

The two engineers managed to connect the offline machine to the internet, applying its’ vast computational power to the Bitcoin network. However, it appears to pair did not get far. The RFNC-VNIIEF press-service announced that the operation had been “timely suppressed”, with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)  immediately beginning investigations after picking up unauthorized data from the device. No information was provided regarding the number of bitcoins successfully mined, or the identities of the accused.

The offenders will face criminal charges, according to the Russian source. Due to the institution’s government connection the pair will allegedly be accused of “state-treason”, although no information is available regarding the punishment this charge may imply.  Allegedly they have been released from detention on the condition that they stay within the country.

Tatyana Zalesskaya, head of the research institute press service, spoke with the Russian source, stating that this was not the first occurrence of such a case:

“Similar attempts have recently been registered in a number of large companies with large computing capacities”

This is perhaps unsurprising, with individuals drawn to do so by the sheer capabilities they offer. Supercomputers such as the one at the Sarov facility dwarf home mining rigs, enabling much faster block discovery – and therefore greater rewards. Moreover, using institutional computers is made more profitable still by allowing miners to circumvent the notoriously high electricity costs.

The supercomputer in question is capable of one petaflop, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 FLOPS. FLOPS, (Floating Point Operations Per Second) are used to measure the performance of a computer’s processor, and the unit petaflop is reserved for only the most powerful supercomputers. It has been operational since 2011, performing highly complex scientific calculations, and, as the most powerful supercomputer in Russia it would likely have been the most profitable for bitcoin mining. This is because mining is a process that forces machines to do computational work, solving hash functions in order verify that process transactions on the network. It’s a process where the faster a machine can check  hashes, the more likely it is that it will be included in a block and be rewarded with Bitcoin, and in this digital race supercomputers have a clear and tantalizing advantage.

Sarov was home to theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, and is located in the Nizhny Novgorod region of the country. The state-owned facility, now officially closed, was until recently code-named Arzamas-16 and absent from maps.

Cryptocurrency mining is growing in popularity across Russia – a nation that often avoids the central issue of keeping mining machines cool due to it’s long and cold winters. It has become widely known, receiving endorsement from leader Vladimir Putin’s aide Dmitry Marinichev, who has publicly spoken regarding the ease of setting up a mining rig. The notoriety of crypto in this country is clear, with Russia last October announcing plans to issue an official state cryptocurrency, the CryptoRuble, and adopting a lax stance on regulation.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

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