In what has been coined the “big bitcoin heist,” 600 computers used for bitcoin mining have been stolen from data centers across Iceland. Authorities in that sparsely populated island nation on the Arctic Circle say that it’s the largest series of robberies ever to hit Iceland. Police there believe that these thefts are tied to organized crime.
Says police chief Olafur Helgi Kjartansson in an AP report:
“This is a grand theft on a scale unseen before. Everything points to this being a highly organized crime.”
These nefarious acts took place in the towns of Reykjanes and Borgarbyggð in December and one in January. News on this development was intentionally delayed in an effort to locate the thieves. Images from security cameras at the Reykjanesbær data center were useful to police. At the time of writing, 11 people had been arrested in connection with the crimes, including one security guard. Last week, a Reykjanes District Court ruled that two of the people should remain in custody.
The discovery comes on the heels of Iceland’s boom as a haven for cryptocurrency miners. The country has become an appealing place for mining bitcoin due to cheap electricity rates tied to renewable geothermal and hydroelectric energy, and cool temperatures which offer a favorable setting to prevent the overheating of mining computers.
Iceland also the home of Auroracoin a cryptocurrency that was created for the people of the country.
The energy cost advantages ensuing from renewable sources has sparked a surge of mining companies that are considering a mining operation launch in Iceland. Officials at the country’s top energy company say that Bitcoin mining has become so popular that more electricity will likely be directed toward mining coins than powering homes in 2018. They go on to note that this trajectory is a cause for concern as it could potentially lead to insufficient energy resource needed to supply all of the Bitcoin mining operations proposed for the area.
Says Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson, a spokesman for Icelandic energy firm HS Orka in an interview with the BBC, “If all these projects are realized, we won’t have enough energy for it.”
In the meantime, crypto mining rig thefts are likely to escalate as cryptocurrency values continue to rise. And while the machines stolen have an estimated value of around one million, the real return for these thieves may come in the form of bitcoin itself. That’s because if these computers are put back into operation – they could be used to generate digital coins that at present are worth over $11,000 each.