Data Centre Heists: Raiders Steal Hundreds Of Bitcoin-Mining Servers In Iceland

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Eleven suspects have now been arrested in connection with the crime spree, the biggest in Iceland’s history

Police have arrested 11 suspects in Iceland following a series of thefts that targeted specialised Bitcoin-mining servers housed in data centres.

Icelandic authorities said the series of four heists, which occurred in December and January, represent the country’s biggest-ever crime spree.

The thefts are one of the more unusual developments accompanying the emergence of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, along with technologies such as blockchain that underpin them.

“This is a grand theft on a scale unseen before,” said Olafur Helgi Kjartansson, the police commissioner on the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula, according to AP. “Everything points to this being a highly organised crime.” Two of the burglaries took place on Reykjanes.

Iceland geothermal energy © Gislij20 Shutterstock
Geothermal and hydroelectric sources mean Iceland offers relatively inexpensive power

Bitcoin heist

A total of about 600 machines was stolen, and while the value of the equipment alone was estimated at nearly $2 million (£1.45m), police said they believe the criminals probably intend to enlarge their profits by putting the servers to work mining Bitcoin.

Police said the first three thefts took place in December, with a fourth following in January. The crimes weren’t publicised until last week while authorities investigated the case. The 11 arrested reportedly include a security guard, with two of the individuals still in custody.

Authorities have asked firms involved with energy and internet services to monitor unusual energy usage that may be caused by Bitcoin-mining activities by the stolen servers.

Data Centre
The Aurora Borealis over southern Iceland, where the crimes took place

Volatility

One tip has already led investigators to two shipping containers deposited in an area of the Westman Islands archipelago off Iceland’s south coast, according to local reports.

The containers were reportedly linked to the electrical grid and may have housed a makeshift data centre using some of the stolen equipment, according to newspaper Eyjafrétta. The paper said a Russian national, one of the 11 arrested, was linked to the containers.

Late last year, at the time the burglaries began, Bitcoin had soared in value to nearly $20,000, having started the year at around $1,000. Its value then plummeted early this year, and on Monday it was trading at around $11,000.

Bitcoins are generated by processor-intensive calculations carried out by powerful servers that require large amounts of power, and Iceland, which has relatively low energy costs, has attracted significant cryptocurrency mining operations in recent months.

In February Iceland’s power generation company HS Orka said it was seeing an “exponential” increase in the amount of power used by server farms that mine cryptocurrencies and verify transactions.

It said cryptocurrency mining had for the first time drawn more energy than  Iceland’s 348,000 residents used to power their homes.

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