Several scientists working at the Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, Russia were arrested this week for allegedly using one of the country’s most powerful supercomputers to mine bitcoins. Tatiana Zalesskaya, a spokeswoman for the facility, said the scientists were making “an attempt to use the work computing facilities for personal ends, including for so-called mining.”
The detained were reportedly employed at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics. The supercomputer used was not supposed to be connected to the Internet for security reasons. The facility’s security system appears to have been alerted to the unauthorized use of the computer quickly.
The suspects were quickly apprehended and were handed over to the Federal Security Service. The Federal Security Service has not issued a statement on the arrests or criminal charges pending. The exact number of individuals detained has not been disclosed.
The Federal Nuclear Center is in a top-secret area where the Soviet Union’s first nuclear bomb was produced. Its Soviet era name was Arzamas-16. The facility is now overseen by Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, and still works on developing nuclear weapons. The nuclear facility employs about 20,000 people. The facility is so secret that it was left off Soviet maps.
During the cold war, Sarov was a top-secret city in the Nizhny Novgorod region, roughly 300 miles east of Moscow. Sarov is still a closed city whose inhabitants are subject to travel restrictions. No one who does not live in the city is allowed to visit without permission. Sarov is surrounded by fences and guarded by the Russian military. Foreigners visiting on official business have to surrender their passports, cell phones, and other electronic devices.
Mining is a way to amass cryptocoins without paying for them. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin require a great deal of computer energy to mine. The supercomputer that was allegedly used can do the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. That’s ideal for running nuclear scientific calculations and simulations.
Cryptocurrency speculation and mining have generated much interest in Russia. There have been numerous other attempts to harness corporate and industrial computer systems for illicit cryptocurrency mining.