Weather Bureau IT mining cryptocurrencies?

By Cameron Abbott and Allison Wallace

The Australian Federal Police are investigating two members of the Bureau of Meteorology’s IT team for allegedly running an operation in which they made use of the Bureau’s powerful computers to “mine” cryptocurrencies.

It was revealed late last week that the AFP raided the Bureau’s Melbourne CBD offices on February 28, and questioned the two employees. No charges have been laid, or arrests made.

The ABC reports that at least one of the employees who was questioned last week has since gone on leave.

While the AFP haven’t made further comment, with the investigation ongoing, RMIT’s Dr Chris Berg has told the ABC that the employees may have been using the computers at the Bureau to either avoid significant electricity bills, or to take advantage of their computational power.

Cryptocurrency mining is the process by which transactions are verified and added to the block chain, and also the process through which new cryptocurrencies (say, new Bitcoins) are released.

Mining involves a large amount of computational power, as the computers are required to solve complicated mathematical formulas (“puzzles”) in order to complete the process. The computer power required means mining is an electricity-intensive task.

Mining is lucrative as the first miner to solve the puzzle gets to place the block on the block chain, and claim the rewards – Dr Chris Berg told the ABC that if you mine cryptocurrency, you’re rewarded in the cryptocurrency you’re mining. So if that was Bitcoin, you would get 12.5 Bitcoins – which is worth around $170,000.

While the mining itself is not illegal in Australia, using the Weather Bureau’s computers to carry out the process could be considered an illegal use of government resources.

This comes after publicity around various malware being used to hijack processing capacity to mine for cryptocurrency.

Now organisations need to consider the temptation presented to their employees of all that processing power!

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