If you’ve got a supercomputer, you might as well use it for something worthwhile. A group of nuclear engineers at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics clearly agree: an unknown number of engineers at the Russian Federation Nuclear Center facility were busted stealing some of that computer’s cycles to mine an undisclosed cryptocurrency, as Ars Technica writes, citing Russia’s Interfax News Agency.
The Federal Nuclear Center—located in the closed city of Sarov, where the Soviets’ first nuclear weapon was built—reportedly has a supercomputer that boasts a capacity of 1 petaflop, the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.
The engineers were caught in the process of breaking a cardinal rule of the facility, given its super-sensitive work: don’t connect the computer to the internet. To mine cryptocurrency, they ignored that directive. Their attempt to connect to the web triggered an alert that drew the attention of the Federal Security Service.
Officially, they were accused of perpetrating “an unsanctioned attempt to use computer facilities for private purposes including so-called mining,” Ars says. Two of the engineers now face treason charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, according to Meduza, citing the Telegram channel Mash.
Other industrial facilities in Russia have reportedly been used for cryptocurrency mining, and employees at Russia’s largest bank, the state-controlled Sberbank, have been found to be using the company’s GPU chips to mine cryptocurrency. One Russian businessman reportedly bought two power stations to mine digital coins.
Large mining operations have drawn increasing restrictions from authorities in China—historically home to the bulk of the bitcoin network’s miners—amid a broader clampdown on cryptocurrency exchanges by Beijing. In Russia, a government long suspicious of bitcoin has taken a more open regulatory approach.
A top Russian official recently expressed interest in cryptocurrencies in part because they can in theory be used to evade the kind of international sanctions that Russia faces. That’s an asset that may also help explain a recent string of cryptocurrency-focused cyberattacks by heavily sanctioned North Korea.