According to the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), two Bureau of Meteorology IT employees are being investigated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) over an allegedly illicit crypto mining operation. The operation reportedly involved the bureau’s powerful computers.
Per ABC’s report, police officers executed a search warrant at the bureau’s headquarters in Collins Street, Melbourne late last month. The officers questioned two IT employees, one of whom has since gone on leave.
People with knowledge of the raid further revealed that the rest of the bureau’s IT team was told to go into a conference room and wait while the other two were being questioned. So far, no charges have been filed as the investigation is ongoing.
Mining cryptocurrencies isn’t illegal in Australia, although mining them using the government’s computers is, as it could be illegal use of government resources. Both the bureau and the AFP declined to comment on the case.
Chris Berg, from the RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub, told ABC that the employees could be using the government’s machines for various reasons. Among them, was either their computational power, or the fact that the bureau was covering the electrical bills.
Commenting on the illicit crypto mining operation, he said:
“One possibility is that they’re trying to use some of the equipment that the Bureau of Meteorology have. The Bureau of Meteorology has some very fast computers. Another possibility, though, is that they’re just trying to get the Bureau of Meteorology to pay for the electricity. Mining is a very electricity-intensive task and they probably didn’t want to pay for it themselves.”
Berg went on to describe how cryptocurrency mining works. He mentioned bitcoin in particular, and the 12.5 BTC miners get as a reward when they find a new block. It’s unclear what cryptocurrency was mined using the bureau’s computers, if any.
Another illicit crypto mining operation
This is notably not the first time government employees use what they can to mine cryptocurrencies. As reported by Core Media, Russian nuclear engineers were arrested last month for trying to use one of the country’s largest supercomputers to mine.
Back in January 2017, at least one US Federal Reserve employee was sentenced to 12 months’ probation and was fined $5,000 for using the Federal Reserve System’s server to mine bitcoin. The employee plead guilty to one count of unlawful conversion of government property.