Some scientists working at one of Russia’s top-secret nuclear research facilities have been arrested by state security officers for allegedly trying to use the site’s powerful research computers to mine cryptocurrency called Bitcoin.
The alleged attempt to mine Bitcoin was carried out at the Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, a restricted area with high security where the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb was developed during the cold war.
The Federal Nuclear Centre is overseen by Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, and works on developing nuclear weapons. In 2011, the center launched its new supercomputer with a capacity of 1 petaflop, which can undertake one thousand trillion operations per second. That supercomputer was not intended to be connected to the internet and when scientists attempted to do so, the center’s security department was alerted.
Whether or not the scientist’s group targeted the center’s supercomputer or regular PCs isn’t clear. However, it seems that at least some of the machines they wanted to use had been air-gapped for security — meaning they were kept permanently offline to keep them safe from hackers. When the scientists tried to connect the computers to the internet to start their mining operations, they accidentally alerted the facility’s security team, who then contacted Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
According to reports from Interfax news agency, those researchers have reportedly been detained after making “an attempt to use the work computing facilities for personal ends, including for so-called mining.”
“Their activities were stopped in time. The bungling miners have been detained by the competent authorities. As far as I know, a criminal case has been opened regarding them,” Tatiana Zalesskaya, a spokesperson for the facility told the Interfax. She also added, “Any similar attempts in future “will be harshly put down. This activity technically has no future and is punishable as a crime.”
Mining cryptocurrencies in this way require huge amounts of computing power, and it’s common for miners to seek out cheap and often illegal sources of computer processing power to enable transactions to take place.