A group of Russian nuclear scientists was arrested after it was discovered they used a top-secret supercomputer to mine cryptocurrency.
The scientists were apprehended after allegedly connecting the high-end machine to the internet to use it for “personal purposes,” including cryptocurrency mining, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
The Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, western Russia, is a restricted area.
“There has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining,” the center’s press service said.
The supercomputer was not supposed to be connected to the internet – to prevent intrusion – and once the scientists attempted to do so, the nuclear center’s security department was alerted. They were handed over to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian news service Mash says.
“As far as we are aware, a criminal case has been launched against them,” the press service told Interfax.
Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin do not rely on centralized computer servers. People who provide computer processing power to the crypto-currency system, to enable transactions to take place, can get rewards in Bitcoin.
During the Cold War, the USSR’s first nuclear bomb was produced at Sarov, while Joseph Stalin ruled the country. The top-secret town was not even marked on Soviet maps 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.
There are suspicions that the radioactive polonium-210 used to kill ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 came from Sarov.
The Federal Nuclear Center reportedly employs up to 20,000 people and its supercomputer boasts a capacity of 1 petaflop, the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.
Mining crypto-currencies requires great computational power and huge amounts of energy.
There have been reports of some other industrial facilities in Russia being used for crypto-mining, and one businessman reportedly bought two power stations for the activity.