When one uses the term “Russian nuclear scientist”, one immediately imagines the smartest person imaginable. Perhaps a chess champion on the side or someone who has memorized all of Dostoyevsky’s works, but definitely the type of person who is a brilliant and shrewd mathematician seven steps ahead of his or her counterparts anywhere else in the world.
And then there’s reality.
Specifically, the couple of engineers—it’s believed to be two—at the Sarov, Russia nuclear facility who just got busted using their employer’s supercomputer to mine bitcoin.
The All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) is where the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb was developed. Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist-turned-human rights activist, worked there. Although 20,000 people work there, you can’t find it on an official map and even ordinary Russian citizens can’t just visit the town.
It’s secure from everything except, apparently, bitcoin fever.
To be sure, the temptation must have been great. As noted by Russia’s Interfax news agency, the scientists had access to a supercomputer that can process 1 petaFLOPS (1,000,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second). When it was installed in 2011, it was the fastest computer of its kind and one of two of the fastest supercomputers in Russia. However, China now has one 93 times faster than that so, c’mon, the old computer was probably just gathering dust or something like a 486 desktop, right?
In case one was wondering, a 1 PFLOPS supercomputer is just a drop in the bucket for the overall bitcoin network, with its network hash rate of 80,704,290.84 PFLOPS. Bitcoins are “mined” by computers dedicating some or most of their processing power to the network. In exchange, they can possibly win bitcoins, with 12.5 BTC (about $105,000 as of Friday) awarded every 10 minutes to the winning miner(s). So it may have been lucrative but it’s possible they didn’t make enough to quit their day jobs.
Of course, in order to mine bitcoins, the engineers had to connect the computer to the internet. That’s right, they thought it was a good idea to hook up a supercomputer with nuclear information at one of Russia’s most safeguarded sites to the same global network used by distressed Nigerian princes and 4chan.
“As far as we know, a criminal case has been instituted against them,” Tatyana Zalesskaya, head of the research institute’ press office, told Interfax on Friday. Gee, ya think?
Good luck getting out of this one, guys.