Crypto mining ops in nuclear power plant nabbed in Ukraine

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Employees in a Ukranian nuclear power plant have connected the infrastructure to the internet and used the massive energy generated in the plant in order to carry out a crypto mining operation inside the plant itself. The authorities are investigating the said employees for a potential data breach.

The Ukranian Secret Service (SBU), who is investigating the incident, said that they are looking into it as a potential data breach since nuclear power plants are classified as critical infrastructures.

While the front of the employees after their operations were rounded up was crypto mining, the investigators are confirming whether they are using the crypto mining rig in order to penetrate into the nuclear power plant’s network and retrieve critical information from its system. The Secret Service from Ukraine is considering whether the attackers have plans to collect data on the plant’s physical defenses and protections.

In July, the authorities have found out that a cryptomining operation has been taken place, using the infrastructure illegally at the  South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, located near the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk, in southern Ukraine.

The SBU raided the nuclear power plant back on July 10 and seized equipment that is specifically designed for cryptomining. However, until now, there is no information on how the operation was discovered.

Court documents, which are now restricted, revealed that during the raid, authorities were able to confiscate two metal cases containing basic computer parts but with add-ons such as power supplies, coolers, and video cards. Specifically, one of the metal cases was found to have contained a six Radeon RX 470 GPU video cards and the second metal case contained five of the said equipment, the court document said.

Furthermore, the SBU also found and seized equipment that appears to be mining rigs in the  National Guard of Ukraine barracks, a building where the military agency tasked for securing and guarding the powerplant is stationed.

While several employees of the nuclear power plant in Ukraine were charged for the clandestine operation that the SBU has discovered, none of them were arrested as of writing, and it is still unclear whether the guards from the National Guard of Ukraine were charged for the crime.

Investigators believed that the suspect employees were motivated to harness the power of the nuclear power plant and exploit its infrastructure to conduct bitcoin mining because of the sudden spike in cryptocurrency prices in the recent months after valuation for the technology significantly went up.

Cryptomining is the process by which an individual can “mine” bitcoin by participating in the blockchain and performing blockchain operations. For a significant number of bitcoin operation, a miner completes, the member of the blockchain that performed those operations is rewarded with a certain amount of the cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin mining is a huge operation around the world. In order to do it, one needs a generous power supply and massive computing power to keep the operation going. There is no thinking why the Ukranian employees took advantage of their workplace for their cryptomining operation.

Over the past two years, many employees have been caught exploiting their workplaces by connecting their own crypto mining rig to their company’s systems in order to leverage its computer and energy powers to sustain and maximize their crypto mining operations.

The discovery isn’t just isolated to one region only but has been found in multiple countries around the world. The attackers have been exploiting power systems of nuclear plants, physics laboratories, among others.

A similar operation was also discovered in Russia last February 2018, after authorities found out that employees of the Russian Nuclear Center were using the plant’s resources and infrastructure in order to participate in crypto mining.

A month after the incident in Russia, Australian authorities also shut down a clandestine cryptocurrency mining operation at the  Bureau of Meteorology, where employees were using their work computers to mine for bitcoins.

Another employee from Romanian National Research Institute for Nuclear Physics and Engineering was also caught mining cryptocurrencies in his work. The suspect was said to have brought his own crypto mining rig and connected it to the company’s power system in order to harness the advanced energy that was recently integrated into the company to power the world’s most powerful lasers.

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