Russian Nuclear Engineer Fined for Trying to Mine Bitcoin on One of the Country's Most Powerful Supercomputers

A Russian scientist has been fined the equivalent of $7,000 for using a supercomputer inside a secretive nuclear facility to mine for bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Denis Baykov, an employee of the Federal Nuclear Center in Sarov, was fined 450,000 rubles on September 17 after being found guilty of violating the lab's internal computer policies, RIA Novosti reported via The Moscow Times, citing a ruling published by the city court.

Two additional staff members, Andrei Rybkin and Andrei Shatokhin, are still facing legal action. The employees were charged with unlawful access to computer information and using unauthorized computer software, RIA Novosti reported

Bitcoin, the most popular type of cryptocurrency, is created using computing power, which requires a lot of energy resources. The process is known as mining.

News of the arrests came to light in February 2018, when the Interfax news agency reported that security at the nuclear facility was alerted to the illicit mining activity. According to the BBC, the scientists raised a red flag by connecting the computer to the internet. "There was an attempt at unauthorized use of office computing power for personal purposes, including for the so-called mining," the institute said in a statement at the time.

Alexei Korolev, the lawyer for one of the defendants, told state media outlet RT that the engineers developed a special program that was supposed to keep their activities undetected. He said they managed to mine some bitcoin, but the exact amount was not immediately clear.

Korolev confirmed the nuclear scientists had pleaded guilty after their arrest. "They regret what they did," he noted. "But I think they went for it out of professional interest, not for the purpose of profit."

According to RT, the hearing date for Rybkin and Shatokhin has not yet been scheduled, but the case was received by the city court on September 11.

RT is a news outlet financed by the Russian government. The Sarov lab, founded in 1946, was responsible for producing the first Soviet nuclear weapon, The Moscow Times reported. The lab houses a supercomputer capable of conducting 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

In August, employees of a power plant in Ukraine exposed secret information after installing cryptocurrency mining rigs into the network, the website SecurityWeek reported at the time.

The Security Service of Ukraine found staffers of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Station had been using the plant's systems to power their mining devices, but they appeared to have aided the leak of classified data after the equipment was linked up to the internet. Typically, critical computer networks can be isolated from the internet, or "air-gapped," for security purposes.

A visual representation of the digital cryptocurrency bitcoin on November 9, 2017, in Hong Kong. studioEAST/Getty