Sydney Man Sentenced for Mining Cryptocurrency With CSIRO Supercomputers

Sydney Man Sentenced for Mining Cryptocurrency With CSIRO Supercomputers
A person holds a visual representation of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, at the "Bitcoin Change" shop in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv Feb. 6. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

A 34-year-old man will serve 300 hours of community service for illegally using the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) supercomputers and servers to mine cryptocurrency.

The man worked as an IT contractor for the Australian government when he modified the CSIRO's computer systems to use its processing power to mine $9,400 in cryptocurrency.

Chris Goldsmid, the Australian Federal Police's commander of cybercrime operations, said the man's actions diverted the supercomputers away from performing significant research for Australia, including the Pulsar Data Array Analysis, medical research and more.

“The AFP commends the prompt actions of CSIRO in identifying this criminal conduct and swiftly reporting it for investigation,” Cmdr. Goldsmid said in a statement on Sept. 19. “The consequences are clear—this was a misuse of Australian taxpayers’ trust by a Commonwealth employee, motivated by personal gain and greed."

AFP officers first searched the man's Killara home in New South Wales on March 5, 2018, and seized a personal laptop, phone, employee ID cards, and data files.

He was interviewed and charged with offenses relating to impairment of Commonwealth servers and systems and pleaded guilty on Feb. 28 in a Sydney court. He was sentenced on Sept. 18 to 15 months' imprisonment that will be served by way of an Intensive Community Order which includes 300 hours of community service.

The Australian Signals Directorate, a government agency that oversees foreign signals intelligence and information security, explains that cryptomining is a legitimate process to verify transactions, such as auditing. Miners receive a small financial reward for keeping cryptocurrency honest. It only becomes illegal when miners hack into other computers to use its processing power to mine cryptocurrency.

The IT contractor was hired in January 2018 to perform his role in data archiving and software support when, without authorisation, he accessed the CSIRO's supercomputers and servers to mine cryptocurrency—causing at least $76,000 of impairment to the supercomputers.

The CSIRO is a government research agency, perhaps most famously known for inventing WiFi.