Russian nuclear weapons engineers detained after using facility’s supercomputer to mine cryptocurrency

Reminiscent of the California Gold Rush, the cryptocurrency phenomenon has captured the minds of virtually everyone who understands digital currency. And those with the means to ‘mine’ it will go to great lengths to do so, as evidenced most recently by engineers at a nuclear weapons plant in Russia.

With direct access to 1 petaflop of computing horsepower and no apparent supervision, engineers at the Russian Federation Nuclear Center in Sarov – where the Soviets developed their first atom bomb in the 1940s – decided to make some easy money.

According to Russia’s Interfax News Agency, an unconfirmed number of engineers at the RFNC have been arrested for mining (or attempting to mine) cryptocurrency with “office computing resources.” Those resources were none other than the facility’s 1-petaflop supercomputer, which the institute uses to stimulate nuclear tests.

One petaflop is a unit of computing speed equal to one quadrillion floating point operations per second (FLOPS). It achieves this by leveraging thousands of individual processors in parallel.

“There has been an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining,” said Tatyana Zalesskaya, head of RFNC public relations department.

In the cryptocurrency world, mining refers to validating transactions. To do that, the computer used to mine the currency must be connected to the public ledger, shared by everyone trading it. In other words, it needs to use the Internet.

And that’s exactly what one of the detained engineers reportedly attempted to do, which triggered alarms at the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and led to the engineers’ arrest.

Because the institute’s supercomputer is designed to test top-secret nuclear arms, the Kremlin obviously doesn’t want an Ethernet cable anywhere near it. One can only imagine the potential repercussions of these engineers’ actions. Punishment will likely greatly exceed a slap on the wrist.

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