Russian nuclear scientists were arrested for using a supercomputer to mine bitcoin

Behind closed doors.
Behind closed doors.
Image: Reuters/Mikhail Voskresensk
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Russia has busted engineers working at a classified nuclear research facility for using powerful government supercomputers to mine for cryptocurrencies.

The supercomputer is housed in the Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, a restricted area with high security. The Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb was  developed at the center, also known as the Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics, and famed physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrey Sakharov worked there for 20 years.

The engineers were caught red-handed after connecting the supercomputer to the internet, which usually stays offline to ensure security. Once caught, the engineers were turned over to the Federal Security Service.

Bitcoin mining is basically competitive bookkeeping: Miners build and maintain a permanent ledger of every transaction, known as a blockchain. But first they have to complete a cryptographic proof-of-work problem—a ridiculously labor-intensive math puzzle that requires lots of computer power and electricity. Provide computer processing power to the crypto system, and you’re rewarded in bitcoin.

That’s even more enticing if you have one of the world’s most powerful computers at your disposal, for free.

Russia is becoming a hotbed of cryptocurrency mining because of its low-cost energy reserves, according to Bloomberg.

It’s likely the computer takeovers will only continue. “Similar attempts have recently been registered in a number of large companies with large computing capacities, which will be severely suppressed at our enterprises, institute spokeswoman Tatyana Zalesskaya told the Russian news agency Interfax.