A former CSIRO staffer who used the organisation’s supercomputers to mine cryptocurrency has pleaded guilty to misappropriating the powerful hardware.
In a ruling on Friday, 34-year-old Jonathan Khoo was given a 15-month sentence to be served in the community through an intensive correction order.
Hired as an IT contractor at CSIRO’s Marsfield between January and February 2018, Khoo setup mined $9,400 worth of the Ethereum and Monero cryptocurrencies using the CSIRO’s supercomputer capabilities.
According to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Khoo’s short-lived mining operation cost the CSIRO at least $76,000 worth of supercomputing time.
Commander of the AFP’s Cybercrime Operations, Chris Goldsmid, said Khoo seriously misused taxpayer resources.
“The AFP commends the prompt actions of CSIRO in identifying this criminal conduct and swiftly reporting it for investigation,” Cmdr. Goldsmid said.
“This man’s activities diverted these supercomputer resources away from performing significant scientific research for the nation, including Pulsar Data Array Analysis, medical research and climate modelling work to measure impacts to the environment from climate change.
“The consequences are clear – this was a misuse of Australian taxpayers’ trust by a commonwealth employee, motivated by personal gain and greed.”
Khoo plead guilty to the crime of unauthorised modification of data to cause impairment. It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
The CSIRO did not comment on the case.
It’s been done before
Khoo was not the first to be caught using a work computer to mine cryptocurrency.
In February 2018 – shortly after the price of Bitcoin peaked – Russian officials arrested scientists working at a nuclear weapons facility who tried to hook the facility’s supercomputer up to the internet so it could mine.
Two IT staff at the Bureau of Meteorology were also investigated by the AFP in the same month over an apparent crypto mining scheme.
According to Crikey, an IT staffer at the ABC went so far as to install a bitcoin miner on the public broadcaster’s website back in 2011.
“If you visited the ABC website, this program connected to your computer without your knowledge or permission and used it to help create money/currency for this individual for his own private profit,” a source told Crikey.
“This was done knowingly and intentionally. It was not an accident or mistake. The individual has admitted to doing it, and the reason was personal gain/profit.
“And that’s putting to one side the whole shady nature of the currency itself.”
Many Australian cryptocurrency exchanges recently de-listed the privacy-focused Monero coin.
In an announcement earlier this month, Coinspot said regulations made it “unworkable” to keep trading coins.
“We regularly review all digital assets available on Coinspot to ensure that all projects on our platform are compliant with internal and external guidelines, criteria and regulation,” Coinspot said.
“Regulatory updates from industry service providers regarding these privacy coins have unfortunately made it unworkable to continue trading of these assets.”