Bitcoin Mining Computer Heists – A New Threat in Iceland?

Iceland was hit with four Bitcoin mining computer burglaries between December 2017 and January 2018. These burglaries resulted in the loss of about 600 Bitcoin mining computers and the arrest of at least 11. Both the local press and local government authorities consider these burglaries as the “biggest series of thefts ever,” with the local press even dubbing the burglaries, “Big Bitcoin Heist.”

The 600 Bitcoin mining computers had an estimated value of USD$2 million. Not even one was ever found. Aside from their inherent value, the powerful Bitcoin mining computers could return quite a sum if used for its original purpose of cryptocurrency mining. This could very well be the case as southwestern Reykjanes Peninsula police commissioner Olafur Helgi Kjartansson noted that “Everything points to this being a highly organized crime,” and that “this is a grand theft on a scale unseen before.”

Two of the burglaries took place in the Reykjanes Peninsula with three of the burglaries taking place in December while the latest was in January. The burglaries weren’t immediately publicized as the local police hoped to track down the thieves without interference.

These recent cases seem to coincide with the rush of Bitcoin mining activities in the island nation. “Bitcoin Thirst” as some sources call it, involves foreign cryptocurrency traders steadily flocking into Iceland in the past several months. Cryptocurrency mining computers consume and require a lot of electricity to sustain its high computational power. And it is electricity that Iceland has an abundance of. With its numerous sources for renewable energy, primarily geothermal energy, the cost of electricity relatively cheap in Iceland compared to the rest of Europe.

It is even noted that Bitcoin mining, or cryptocurrency mining in general, would draw higher consumption rates.  There is already a clustering of Bitcoin farms in the town of Keflavik, just 50 kilometers from Reykjavik. It is estimated that by the end of 2018, the electricity consumption brought by Bitcoin mining operations would overtake the electricity consumption of Iceland’s 300,000 plus population.

“We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation,” said Iceland MP, Smari McCarthy who is also a digital activist.

But the local police considers this very high electricity consumption as their trump card in locating the missing Bitcoin mining computers. They have been on the lookout for any sudden spikes in electricity consumption across the country. Aside from that, they contacted electricians, internet service providers, and owners of storage space services for any information on any unusual activities especially requests for more power allocation.

The police are sure that the Bitcoin mining computers are now used in an illegal Bitcoin mine and would surface sooner or later. So far, about 11 people were arrested in connection with the burglaries. One of those arrested was a security guard. None of the suspects were named publicly but two of the suspects remains in custody under the order of the Reykjanes District Court.

Iceland’s government officials had been discussing the issue of the increasing numbers of Bitcoin mining farms. McCarthy considered taxing the Bitcoin farm operators and he also noted the risk of electronics attacks. But for something that doesn’t have any “tangible existence,” Bitcoin is surely making quite an impact on the island nation.

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