Aussie Bureau of Meteorology Staff Accused of Using Work Supercomputers to Mine Cryptocurrencies

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Two IT staff who work for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology are being investigated over allegations they illegally used the bureau’s supercomputers to mine cryptocurrencies.

Police question Bureau of Meteorology staff over cryptocurrency operation

By Dylan Welch

Updated Thu at 1:39pm

Two Bureau of Meteorology employees are being investigated by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for allegedly running an elaborate operation involving the use of the bureau’s powerful computers to “mine” cryptocurrencies, ABC News has learned.

Federal police officers executed a search warrant at the bureau’s Collins Street headquarters in Melbourne on Wednesday last week (February 28). The officers spoke to two IT employees, according to people with knowledge of the raid.

The rest of the bureau’s IT team was ushered into a conference room and told to wait while the employees were questioned, the people said.

At least one of the employees who was questioned by the AFP has since gone on leave. No charges have been laid but the investigation is continuing.

Read more:

Details are currently a bit sparse.

Theft of work resources to mine cryptocurrencies is a significant issue. Cases have ranged from people quietly plugging in cryptocurrency mining rigs, to admin staff installing screen savers which mine cryptocurrencies when users are away from their desk.

Update (EW): Fixed a typo in the first paragraph (h/t schitzree)

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March 10, 2018 12:59 am

Jeez Eric, what took you so long? And a link to the ABC? You’re slipping.

Reply to  zazove
March 10, 2018 10:42 am

Notice how the troll tries to change the subject.

charles nelson
Reply to  zazove
March 10, 2018 2:27 pm

Hey zazove, you never got back to me about Water Vapour Convective Cooling, Water Vapour transporting heat to Winter Polar zones, and of course Clouds. What we old timers ‘call negative feedback’s…
You seem much happier with snide ‘drive by’ comments.
Stick around…let’s have a scientific discussion instead eh?

Reply to  charles nelson
March 10, 2018 8:07 pm

yes I did

Michael 2
Reply to  zazove
March 10, 2018 9:42 pm

“what took you so long”
Likely a time zone thing. What’s your excuse?

Jeroen B.
March 10, 2018 1:04 am

almost, but not quite as hilarious/facepalm worthy as the pair of Russians connecting their top secret nuclear testing supercomputer that officially didn’t exist to the internet it was specifically disconnected from to conceal its existence, for this same purpose ….

Rhoda Klapp
March 10, 2018 1:05 am

Well, did it work? Do we finally have a useful result from a climate computer?

Reply to  Rhoda Klapp
March 10, 2018 2:45 am

Agree, I have no problem with this – finally a practical use for a climate modeling super-computer.
God knows they are utterly useless for climate modeling. One could do better with a Commodore 64.

March 10, 2018 4:57 am

One could do better with a Commodore 64.

If you know what you’re doing you can solve problems with quite sparse resources. An example is the irreducibly simple climate model. It could be run on a Commodore 64, or its predecessor the VIC 20. Arguably it does work better than the GCMs.

March 10, 2018 5:05 am

Indeed, commieBob–a GCM’s estimation variance, if included in the results, negates the results and renders it laughable.

March 10, 2018 5:53 am

funny- cuz bitcoin is a model currency.

Ben of Houston
March 10, 2018 6:53 am

There is already a climate model for he Commodore Amiga

R. Shearer
March 10, 2018 7:01 am

A Commodore 64 couldn’t mine much bitcoin though.

March 10, 2018 8:43 am

R. Shearer March 10, 2018 at 7:01 am
A Commodore 64 couldn’t mine much bitcoin though.

OK, now I’m curious. Could it even mine one bitcoin before the heat death of the universe?
A measure of computer performance is the FLOPS. It’s floating point operations per second. There’s the first problem. The C64 didn’t have hardware floating point per se. It did its floating point operations in software. My gut feeling is that it would be lucky to do 1000 FLOPS. So, let’s be really optimistic and say it can do a million (ie. 10^6).
The current requirement for mining bitcoin is way past 2,000,000 petaFLOPS. link Let’s say 3,000,000 for ease of arithmetic. That’s 3×10^21 FLOPS. So, if I understand correctly (which I doubt) it would take 3×10^15 seconds for a C64 to mine a bitcoin. There are approximately 3×10^7 seconds per year. That means it would take about a million years for our C64 to mine a bitcoin. Except, the difficulty of mining bitcoins is increased as more bitcoins are found.
Given the increasing difficulty of mining bitcoins and the MTBF of the C64, it’s far from practical, and I doubt it’s even theoretically possible for a C64 to mine a bitcoin.

March 10, 2018 9:18 am

I’ve programmed assembler for both the Vic and the PC. the Vic (motorola) was much nicer to work with than the PC (intel).
however like vhs and betamax. the race is not always won by the superior technology.

Jeff Labute
March 10, 2018 9:19 am

You can go to the moon with even less

March 10, 2018 9:54 am

ferdberple March 10, 2018 at 9:18 am
… the race is not always won by the superior technology.

When the PC came along there was a thriving diverse industry which then evaporated. With the PC we had to go back to monochrome monitors and the command line. It was kind of pathetic.

March 10, 2018 10:46 am

The Comodore 64 used a 6510 running at 1MHz.
100 FLOPS is more like it.

March 10, 2018 11:30 am

commieBob, the problem with your calculation is that it’s based on averages.
In reality, a C64 could get incredibly lucky and discover a bitcoin hash on its first attempt. Likely? No. Impossible? No.

March 10, 2018 1:31 pm

I remember when I upgraded to the 128. Great. Then I got an IBM clone, and it was like a different world. Nowadays, the cell phones are more powerful than even an old PC I still use.

Michael 2
March 10, 2018 9:47 pm

ferdberple writes “the race is not always won by the superior technology.”
Unless of course you define “superior” as being whatever won the race, a Darwiniain (ie, scientific) point of view. The segmented memory structure of 8088 and 8086 meant that small programs could be written with fewer bytes of code and short jumps of < 127 bytes were extremely efficient. Motorola chips tended to have flat memory models; better for large data structures but wasteful for byte-wise operations such as word processing. That is how Apple and some models of Unix small computer (the AT&T 3B2 for instance) used Motorola chips while business oriented computers, in particular word processors, favored variable opcode length Intel chips.

March 11, 2018 3:16 am

I was a CPU architect for Motorola, and worked with the guys who created the 68000 (though I came to Motorola for the 68040, 88000, and later PowerPC chips). The only reason Intel won the initial IBM contract was availability. The 68K hit every checkmark requirement- except availability. It just wasn’t fully debugged. The 8086 was (as far as Intel was concerned).
And the Commodore Vic 20 and C=64 used MOS Tech chips. They were based on Motorola chips, but the 68xx (Moto) and 65xx (MOS Tech) were much closer to the 8088 than the 68000.

March 11, 2018 8:20 am

My main recollection of the difference between the 68XX and the 80XX lines was that the Motorola had more addressing modes.
However the addition of the I/O pin on the Intel chips made the external hardware easier to build.

March 12, 2018 11:28 am

Sigh…and now I propose a modification to Godwin’s law, hereafter known as ripshin’s law:
As an online discussion, which is even tangentially related to computers, grows longer, the probability of old-timers discussing the minutia of obsolete hardware, punch cards, and/or antiquated software platforms approaches 1.
[The mods wonder if their bamboo slide rules are considered carbon neutral under Ripshin’s Law? .mod]

Michael 2
Reply to  ripshin
March 13, 2018 8:03 am

ripshin “the probability of old-timers discussing the minutia of obsolete hardware, punch cards, and/or antiquated software platforms approaches 1.”
Not confined to threads pertaining to computers. The same thing happens among photographers at a sporting event where at my table we were discussing the quirks of IBM 729 tape drives (among other trivia) and who had the largest hard disk platter.

Robert from oz
March 10, 2018 1:08 am

They might have just discovered something useful for the computer to do , lord knows it wasn’t any good for what it was intended for but then again neither were the staff .

Reply to  Robert from oz
March 10, 2018 1:15 am

Think of how boring it must have been considering the settled science part to the AGW story. Besides it proved tough trying to make a buck at online poker. Bitcoin looked like a sure deal.

Reply to  goldminor
March 10, 2018 1:54 am

They would not mine bitcoin with it. A supercomputer would be too slow

Reply to  Steven Mosher
March 10, 2018 2:06 am

joking …I was surprised to learn recently when looking for a new graphic card that the market for certain highe end cards was on fire due to bitcoin miners. Crazy, who would have thought.

Reply to  goldminor
March 10, 2018 3:55 pm

“joking …I was surprised to learn recently when looking for a new graphic card that the market for certain highe end cards was on fire due to bitcoin miners. Crazy, who would have thought.”
AltCoins not Bitcoin. GPUs are too slow for Bitcoin

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Robert from oz
March 10, 2018 5:11 am

Ha ha. Is that Mosh admitting to something or fishing for a bigger willy enhancement computer?
The Human Animal cannot pass off untruths – it will always give itself away somehow.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 10, 2018 7:10 am

I see different reasons to his comment.
* Ignorance. There are a number of people around the world ‘mining’ cc, using computers with [far] lower computing capacity than supercomputers.
* Troll activity. He just like to stir the pot, only to provoke.

Pamela Gray
Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 10, 2018 7:59 am

Hmmm. Me thinks you are here to say outlandish things. Got anything else?

Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 10, 2018 3:59 pm

The ignorance about bitcoin and other forms of mining are kinda funny.
They would never use a Supercomputer for Bitcoin because it would be to slow and would not
make any money. They were probably mining Monero which anyone can mine using a PC.

Michael 2
Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 10, 2018 9:49 pm

“The Human Animal cannot pass off untruths”
Of course it can. It is up to you to decide whether a claim is true. Passing it off is easy 🙂

Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 11, 2018 10:03 am

Mosh is right in that any general CPU and even GPU are too slow for bitcoin mining, at least if they have to pay for the power themselves. All cost efficient bitcoin mining has to be done in dedicated chips.
However, if they get the power and computing for free, it could still make sense. You can even mine bitcoin with an old laptop if you want, but the chance of creating a block would be as probable as winning the jackpot in a national lottery.
I guess they have used the supercomputer for some other cryptocurrency which need a powerful CPU.

March 10, 2018 1:10 am

In the first paragraph, I think you mean ‘investigated’ not ‘invested’

Reply to  Eric Worrall
March 10, 2018 2:35 am

Is there an auto-spell check app that auto-spell checks the auto-spellcheck? We all appear to be suffering from this AI virus. A bit like the CO2 Meme.
I have one. It is called “The Bloke” which is me and not very efficient at all. Has very fat fingers.!

Reply to  Eric Worrall
March 10, 2018 3:05 am

For cognog2: Just for your interest, the person who invented the first usable “autocorrect” algorithms passed away early last week.
His funfair was holed on Friday, and many hundreds of miners attended the cervix. May he restaurant in peace.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
March 10, 2018 6:38 am

I do most of my posting by phone, and I’ve miss typed ‘the’ as ‘5he’ so many times that my spell checker has started to change it to that even when I get it right.

March 10, 2018 1:10 am

In the first paragraph, I think you mean ‘investigated’ not ‘invested’

March 10, 2018 1:41 am

The BOM employees could see that there was spare capacity in the super-computers as they were no longer needed for meteorological work, as nowadays the BOM just makes up the temperature record to suit the “Global Warming” Meme and need little exterior reference or equipment function. Bitcoin Mining was a natural development.

March 10, 2018 1:43 am

I seem to remember the SETI screen saver being positively encouraged at one stage.

Reply to  Lewskannen
March 11, 2018 12:38 pm

Damn, I’m just thinking now we need to create SETIcoin. Find a way to combine signal analysis with block processing algorithms. I’m going to be rich!!! /SARC

March 10, 2018 2:03 am

So sergeant Detritus was sent to confiscate magic coins after Vetinari found out.

Reply to  Hugs
March 10, 2018 3:07 am

😉 granny weatherwax should take over bom, we’d have better reports..
but then rincewinds been to fourex already so maybe we can use him?

Reply to  Eric Worrall
March 10, 2018 3:50 am

“Insanity is Catching” -Terry Pratchett
I believe that a couple of his points in “Making Money” was that anything people will accept as a medium of exchange will do, including gold that doesn’t actually exist.

Randy in Ridgecrest
Reply to  Eric Worrall
March 10, 2018 6:26 am

Pork futures

Reply to  Eric Worrall
March 10, 2018 7:16 am

Ridcully looked stern. -So you used the magic of the HexCloud worth AM$20,000 in order to create magical coins worth $20 instead of forecasting weather as you said? Ponder Stibbons was sweating. -I think I need a sick leave. -Just a moment, I’ll make sure you will.
Pratchett was lovely in the way he saw present in the past. And he had a positive but critical angle I loved.

March 10, 2018 2:20 am

Straya!! we would expect no less!!

March 10, 2018 2:58 am

Bitcoin, or any “crypto-currency” doesn’t have any equivalent in the outside, physical realm. There are no real mines of Bitcoins just like there is no physical equivalent of what’s happening inside climate models.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  s-t
March 10, 2018 11:13 am

It is barely different from the “notion” that government sanctioned fiat currencies have any intrinsic value. Two hundred years ago, the idea that tulip bulbs might not be worth more than houses came as a disasterous shock to many people. Humans are strange creatures.
Get this one: There are people who love the idea of nature so much that they don’t want humans to benefit from it. Except themselves. So I guess they’re just lying hypocrites.

John M. Ware
March 10, 2018 4:14 am

Much as I regret exposing my ignorance, I must ask: Is bitcoin a substance, like coal, that can be mined? If it is a substance of the mind, how is a mind mined? I read that bitcoin uses rare-earth metals, which assuredly are mined. If bitcoin is not real money, why buy or sell it? Is it a will-o’-the-wisp? Help . . .

Reply to  John M. Ware
March 10, 2018 4:27 am

Think of it like carbon credit creation and thin air derivatives trading and then you’ll be completely relaxed and comfortable about it all.

Reply to  John M. Ware
March 10, 2018 5:17 am

From mining fake climate data to mining fake money. They should be good at by now.

R. Shearer
Reply to  Rob
March 10, 2018 7:06 am

Crypto-currency has integrity designed into it, however.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Rob
March 10, 2018 11:17 am

Government currencies have never had integrity. The degradation of relative value through inflation is deliberate and insidious.

Michael 2
Reply to  John M. Ware
March 10, 2018 9:52 pm

“If bitcoin is not real money, why buy or sell it?”
A proper salesman is prepared to sell anything, even carbon dioxide that you can make yourself. what makes bitcoin useful is the difficulty in counterfeiting it. Nearly impossible; and if you make one yourself, congratulations; that is how all of them were made.

March 10, 2018 4:33 am

Like everybody else, commenting her, I think they should be prosecuted for what they do when they are NOT mining Bitcoins.
Using the computers to mine Bitcoins is vastly less damaging that using them to fabricate climate predictions.

Keith J
March 10, 2018 5:04 am

Once you get past the ethics, cheating is no longer an issue.

Reply to  Keith J
March 10, 2018 5:07 am

That’s what the Democrats have wholeheartedly embraced in their brand of politics. The end justifies the means.

Reply to  Keith J
March 10, 2018 5:25 am

Certainly, once you have decided to destroy the worlds economy and kill billions with “green” policies, misappropriating computer resources is not an issue.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Keith J
March 10, 2018 8:50 am

Ethics are for Republicans and little people.

Reply to  Keith J
March 10, 2018 8:57 am

Absolutely. The behaviour of an organisation as a whole always seems to reflect that of its top tiers.

March 10, 2018 6:42 am

And they’re doin this…why? Because there’s no money in promoting global warming?

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Richard
March 10, 2018 8:51 am

It is long past time to put the global warming business model out-of-business.

March 10, 2018 6:50 am

Misconduct …
… and I get ads about bitcoin here …

March 10, 2018 7:26 am

It is getting harder to find an even modestly powerful video card for a home PC at retail, as they are being snapped up by the crypto-currency mining gang. If someone caught in this “mining” fad needs their fix and the boss’s supercomputer is just sitting there…

Pamela Gray
March 10, 2018 8:05 am

My how things come round again. Gay nineties has become the gay life, Two bits (real coins worth $.25 for two of them) has become some kind of virtual “bit” coin currency I have no clue about.

Reply to  Pamela Gray
March 10, 2018 5:06 pm

“Two bits” has an interesting origin. In the 1700s the Spanish Milled Dollar, aka. the Spanish 8 Reale, was so popular and widely circulating that the US “dollar” coin minted from the 1792 Coinage Act was a silver coin modeled after the Spanish Milled Dollar. People would cut both coins in half, and half again, and half again, as all that mattered was not the integrity of the coin, but the weight and fineness of the chunk of silver. Each 1/8th coin was a “bit”. So a quarter dollar was “two bits”. And this is also where “pieces of eight” comes from.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Max Photon
March 10, 2018 7:56 pm

Cool, thanx. Can i sit next to you on test days?

Reply to  Max Photon
March 10, 2018 8:33 pm

Sure. I’ll be sitting next to Pamela.

March 10, 2018 8:35 am

Bitcoin is just a virtual pyramid scheme. “Mining” comprises wasting computer cycles and energy to become part of the scam. I don’t care what you can buy with Bitcoin today it is in reality worthless once cashing out snowballs leaving those at the bottom with nothing. A brilliantly executed scam and nothing more. I wonder who/what is really behind it?

Joel O’Bryan
March 10, 2018 8:47 am

I’ve said many times that GCM modellers should be paid in cryptocurrency. These guys just dispensed with the bother of a junk GCM output. At least they got something at least of some value to their organization. Too bad they’ll spend time in prison now and have criminal records. Because their telling the world that their GCM outputs are solid science is certainly criminal.

Walt D.
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 10, 2018 9:00 am


Reply to  Walt D.
March 10, 2018 2:26 pm

It’s far more serious than a laughing matter, but we’ll equate it to “climate science”, or if we’re consistent with this topic of this article, we’ll accurately call it “crypto-science”!

March 10, 2018 11:23 am

To be acceptable as a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of wealth any form of money needs to be limited in supply and in that sense Bitcoin is similar to traditional gold-
It has similar desirable characteristics being reasonably infinitely divisible but unlike gold it should be easier to transact without the physical transportation costs and melting down to divide it.
However Bitcoin has struck transactional backlog problems that traditional national fiat currencies haven’t and to become widely accepted as universal currency, transactions and their reconciliation needs to be immediate. Enter derivatives like gold IOUs and you’re really creating another overlaid currency with it’s further complexities and avenues for monetary leverage and fraud. The helicopter money problem and a run on the banks. Overall it’s hard to see Bitcoin making big inroads into traditional fiat currencies, particularly as issuers of the latter want to protect their seigniorage and Bitcoin itself has infinite cryptocurrency competition on its hands as well.

March 10, 2018 11:36 am

I meant to add here you can see how our green entrepreneurs at the BOM, with sunk cost computing power to burn were really stealing electricity and that was most un-green of them given our national electricity mix. Presumably these heretics will be dealt with accordingly.

Javert Chip
Reply to  observa
March 10, 2018 2:09 pm

Yea, guys in government behaving badly will be dealt with accordingly. Sure, I believe that.

Reply to  Javert Chip
March 10, 2018 5:58 pm

The usual-
“At least one of the employees who was questioned by the AFP has since gone on leave. No charges have been laid but the investigation is continuing.”
Public circus bozos avoid making any worthwhile decisions like the plague as actually making any opens them up to making a blooper so expect endless ‘meetings bloody meetings’ similar to this ongoing saga for 9 months-
When the allegations arose the target of them stood down pending an outcome as you do but like he’s found-
‘In a rare interview during his leave, Quaedvlieg on Tuesday told News Corp Australia that he is frustrated by the process.
He said he had nothing to say about the investigation “other than … regarding the extraordinary time it has taken for this matter to be resolved and to restate my commitment to return to the role at a time which is critical to the security of Australia’s borders and to the establishment of Australia’s national security architecture.”‘
At the rate they’re going his 2 year contract will be up before any of them can make a decision as to his culpability or not. Just another flexitime day in slushfunding paradise.

March 10, 2018 1:31 pm

This must be fake news. First of all, somebody has to write and test the mining code running on the ‘supercomputer’ and that’s not a likely scenario as supercomputers are unlikely to be competitive in terms of speed and power usage. Besides, there are too few supercomputers to make the effort worth while.

Reply to  MSO
March 10, 2018 3:20 pm

“Write bitcoin mining code” ? No, code already exist :
Just compile it and install it, it’s a matter of one hour or two. Some more hours to devise a way to pass the CPU usage as something legit.
It is the best usage so far of the BOM’s supercomputers and it doesn’t change anything to the outcome of their Nintendo science anyway: instead of horribly wrong climate simulations, they will just get terribly wrong climate simulations.

Reply to  Frederic
March 10, 2018 11:54 pm

Just rename the binary to ga_modelv123 and wrap it in a script that spits out the result of a real model run, maybe with a bit of randomness added in (in the positive direction of course)….

March 10, 2018 8:40 pm

For those gentle readers here who are rightly confused about crypto-currencies, here is an absolutely superb video explaining the basics. (Note: I am no fan of crypto-currencies, but I am a fan of understanding.)

Reply to  Max Photon
March 11, 2018 5:09 am

Some might like the big picture concept first (and even last when you think about how you internet bank)-

Steve Skinner
March 11, 2018 7:44 am

Another expression of green greed.

March 11, 2018 12:32 pm

Come on, it’s obviously THE RUSSIANS that did it?!?
Sad that it’s not on supercomputers running climate warmongering models that it was done… Would have much more ironic value. Well just some real value for a change :X

Michael Jankowski
March 11, 2018 2:27 pm

BoM is a joke. The Aussie racetroll didn’t even bother to spin this and/or try and defend them this time.

March 14, 2018 1:24 pm

This is turning into a big thing. More and more companies are finding that their compute resources are being hacked and they are getting bills for massive computer usage that results in some employee making money. There are even various virus’s now that will inject bitcoin mining processes onto your laptop or other computers.
Maybe some of that makes sense to do but if the credit for the mining goes to someone who didn’t own the resources it is a form of theft. My point is this is becoming very common.

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