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Aussie Bitcoin Miner Retrofits Government Computers, Faces 10 Years in Prison

Last Updated March 4, 2021 2:33 PM
Ben Brown
Last Updated March 4, 2021 2:33 PM

By CCN.com: A man from Sydney, Australia will appear in court on Tuesday after turning a government computer into a bitcoin mining rig. He allegedly mined $9,000 worth of cryptocurrency on the modified machine.

The 33-year old IT contractor allegedly tweaked the federal government computers to optimize them for bitcoin mining. If found guilty, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison.

Mining bitcoin at work

In the months previous, police raided the man’s house, confiscating a laptop, smartphone, employee ID cards, and various computer files. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) say he took advantage of his trusted position and manipulated federal resources.

“[He] abused his position as an IT contractor to manipulate program to use the processing power of the agency’s computer network for cryptocurrency mining.” – AFP 

zcash cryptocurrency mining
Bitcoin mining is big business again at a time when the value of cryptocurrencies are hitting 2019 highs.

Mining bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies requires large amounts of electricity and processing power. By using government resources, the man likely jacked up the agency’s energy bills and slowed down other computers on the network.

Not the first time this has happened

In March 2018, two employees of the Bureau of Meteorology allegedly used federal computers to mine crypto .

Meanwhile, students across the US are tapping university resources to mine cryptocurrency from their dorm rooms. As CCN.com reported in March, as much as 22 percent of crypto mining traffic comes from college campuses. CISCO’s Austin McBride explains how students drain the free electricity from student accommodation to make extra money on bitcoin mining.

“You leave [the mining rig] running in your dorm room for four years, you walk out of college with a big chunk of change. So you can run your mining rig in your dorm or school library and not worry about those costs eating into your mining profitability.”

Bitcoin mining profitable again?

The news comes just a month after CCN.com reported that bitcoin mining is finally profitable again. ‘Crypto winter’ put pressure on bitcoin mining profits and videos emerged of bitcoin miners dumping their mining equipment en masse. 

However, the recent surge in price makes the breakeven cost more attractive. It means we may see another goldrush to mining with smart individuals tapping their employer’s resources. 

Back in 2011, one Russian office worker mined 500,000 bitcoins  using his company’s IT stack overnight while no-one was around. At the time, his hoard was worth $5 million, though it’s closer to $4 billion at today’s prices.

Ten years in prison?

If found guilty on Tuesday, the Sydney-based bitcoin miner will face up to ten years in jail. A steep sentence, by any calculation. It seems authorities are still keen to make an example of bitcoin-related crime.

The specific charges include “unauthorized modification of restricted data” and “causing impairment.” A cyber crime specialist, Chris Goldsmid, said:

“Australian taxpayers put their trust in public officials to perform vital roles for our community with the utmost integrity. Any alleged criminal conduct which betrays this trust for personal gain will be investigated and prosecuted.”