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Massive heist results in robbery of 600 computers used to mine bitcoin

March 4, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Massive heist results in robbery of 600 computers used to mine bitcoin

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Approximately 600 computers used to “mine” bitcoin and other forms of virtual currencies have been taken from data centers in Iceland in what authorities call the largest series of thefts ever in the nation.

Roughly 11 people were busted, including a security guard, in what the press in Iceland call the “Big Bitcoin Heist.” On Friday, a judge at the Reykjanes District Court ordered two suspects to remain in custody.

According to The Independent, the powerful computers, which have not yet been located, are worth close to $2 million. However, if the stolen machines are used for its original purpose — to make new bitcoins — the criminals could make a massive profit in an untraceable currency without ever selling them.

“This is theft on a scale unseen before,” Olafur Helgi Kjartansson, the police commissioner on the Reykjanes peninsula, where two of the robberies occurred said.

Three of four robberies took place in December, and a fourth occurred in January, but investigators did not take the events public earlier in hopes of apprehending the thieves.

Bitcoin is a digital currency that isn’t linked to a bank or a government. It has been largely volatile, posting some dizzying intra-day increases and decreases over the past year. The price of one bitcoin soared to close to $20,000 last year and then plunged early this year.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are reliant on the blockchain, which are public, distributed ledgers that track the coins’ ownership. The Bitcoin ledger is powered by “miners,” because they throw computational power into the system, occasionally receiving — or “mining” — new coins as a result. To provide that level of computational power requires a lot of computers — and o course, a substantial amount of electricity.

That need for energy has produced a gold rush for bitcoin in Iceland. Traders looking for cheap, renewable energy have been surging into the island in recent months to utilize its geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

Authorities monitoring the stolen computers are tracking electric consumption across the nation in hopes that the robbers will show themselves.

Unusually high energy usage might explain where the illegal bitcoin mine is located.

This week, investigators enlisted the help of local internet providers, electricians, and storage space units to report any unusual requests for additional power.

On Friday, the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney propelled a withering attack on cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and prompted regulators around the world to monitor them in the same manner as other financial assets.

In a speech at the Scottish Economics conference, Carney said that a “global speculative mania” has “encouraged a proliferation of cryptocurrencies” and said they should be held to the “same standards” as the rest of the economic system.

“Being part of the financial system brings privileges, but with them great responsibilities,” Carney added.

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