Those Silly Rooskis: Cryptocurrency Mining from Sarov

A reproduction of the Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear weapon ever detonated, at the Nuclear Weapons Museum at RFNC-VNIIEF in Sarov (via Wikimedia)

A reproduction of the Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear weapon ever detonated, at the Nuclear Weapons Museum at RFNC-VNIIEF in Sarov (via Wikimedia)

What could possibly go wrong?

The All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics — the Russian Federation Nuclear Center facility where scientists designed the Soviet Union’s first nuclear bomb — is a top secret facility in Sarov, Russia. Don’t bother looking for Sarov on an older map; the site is so secret that it wasn’t shown on Soviet-era maps. In fact, Sarov is still a “closed” city, meaning that access to Sarov is restricted, and no one who does not live in the city is allowed to visit without hard-to-get, official permission. Foreigners visiting on official business have to surrender their passports, cell phones, and other electronic devices at the city’s entrance checkpoints.1

The All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics is the former Soviet Union’s premier research and development center for nuclear weapons. The first Soviet atomic bomb was developed here in the late 1940s, after which the center continued as a center for nuclear weapons research. It is pretty much the Los Alamos of Russia.2 And, like Los Alamos, there is important, highly secret research still going on there. And, as in America, that research requires very powerful computers. The Institute has a 1-petaflop3 capable supercomputer, used for simulating tests of nuclear weapons designs.

Obviously, for reasons of security you don’t want your nuclear weapons design computer connected to the internet.

But that didn’t stop engineers at the Institute from trying to use the Institute’s supercomputer for cryptocurrency mining. For those readers who haven’t been following the issue, “cryptocurrency mining” is a misnomer for providing accounting services for a cryptocurrency. The more computer power you can contribute, the more money you can make. Anyone with a reasonably powerful home computer and decent bandwidth can make somewhere between $0.10 and $0.50 per day.

The Institute’s supercomputer is likely a million to ten million times faster than any home computer you or WC would own. Do the math.

According to the Russian news service Interfax, someone at the Institute attempted to connect the supercomputer to the Internet, and that attempt was detected by the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service, launching an investigation. The Russian authorities aren’t talking about who was arrested or how many were involved. But WC suspects whatever Putin is using for the Gulags these days is going to get some new guests. You have to wonder how they thought they could get away with it. Or who didn’t stay bribed.



  1. Oddly, despite being a closed city, Sarov is home to a public museum, the Russia Museum of Nuclear Weapons, where you can view mockups of famous Soviet nuclear weapons. Like Tsar Bomba, pictured above. 
  2. Los Alamos is Sarov’s Sister City. You can’t make this stuff up. 
  3.  A 1 petaFLOPS (PFLOPS) computer system is capable of performing one quadrillion (1015) floating-point operations per second. If you performed one math calculation a second for 34 million years, that’s one PFLOP. That’s fast but not really fast; current record speeds are in the range of 33 PFLOPS.