And finally… Ukranian nuclear plant used to mine cryptocurrency

Employees at a nuclear power plant connected its internal network to the internet so they could mine cryptocurrency.

The Ukranian Secret Service (SBU) is investigating the incident and treating it as a potential security breach because the nuclear power plant is classified as critical infrastructure.

The authorities are investigating whether attackers could have used the mining rigs as a path to enter the power plant’s network and harvest information from its systems. Such information could include data about the physical defences of the plant.

The incident occurred in July at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, near Yuzhnoukrainsk, in southern Ukraine.

It’s unknown how the scheme was discovered, but on July 10, the SBU raided the nuclear power plant, where it confiscated computers and equipment solely built for mining cryptocurrency. This equipment was found in the power plant’s administration offices but not on its industrial network.

The removed equipment included two metal cases containing computer parts, but with additional power supplies, coolers, and video cards. According to court documents, one case held six Radeon RX 470 GPU video cards, and the second contained five. The authorities also found and removed additional equipment that looked like mining rigs, in the building used as barracks by a military unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, who guarded the plant.

Many employees have been charged for their involvement, but they have not yet arrested. It’s unclear if any military staff have been charged.

The authorities believe the suspects attempted their scheme because of a recent rise in cryptocurrency trading prices after a long period of decline.

State employees have previously abused their access to large sources of electricity and computing power to mine cryptocurrency. In February last year, the Russian authorities arrested engineers from the Russian Nuclear Center for using the agency’s supercomputer for the same purpose.

Similarly, in March 2018, Australian officials initiated an investigation into a similar case at the Bureau of Meteorology, where employees used work computers to mine cryptocurrency.

Again, in April 2018, an employee at the Romanian National Research Institute for Nuclear Physics and Engineering was also caught mining cryptocurrency at work. Local news outlets revealed that the employee brought his own mining rig and connected it to the institute’s electrical network, which was recently expanded to support one of the world’s most powerful lasers.