Thieves have stolen 600 powerful servers specifically designed to mine Bitcoin from data centres in Iceland.
In one of the most audacious series of raids in the tiny Nordic island’s history, the computers were taken from four data centres situated across the nation.
Eleven people are so far reported to have been arrested in connection with the raids, two of whom remain in custody, but none of the computers have been recovered.
While it is estimated the servers could be worth nearly $2 million, the criminals behind the theft could make considerably more money if they used them for the purpose for which they were designed – mining Bitcoin.
Police have asked Icelandic internet service providers and utility companies to be on the lookout for spikes in bandwidth demand and power usage that could indicate the machines have been reconnected.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Olafur Helgi Kjartansson, the police commissioner on the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula, said: “This is a grand theft on a scale unseen before. Everything points to this being a highly organised crime.”
It has become common for companies involved in the mining of Bitcoin to base their operations in colder countries such as Iceland, where they are able to cool their equipment without having to spend large amounts of money.
Iceland’s geothermal and hydroelectric power plants, coupled with the country’s cold climate, have made it a popular destination for Bitcoin miners, whose most costly expense is cooling the hundreds of computers they need to run to turn a profit.
Separately, a US security expert has said North Korea may have made over $200 million by carrying out cryptocurrency transactions last year.
Speaking with Vox, Priscilla Moriuchi, an ex-National Security Agency official who was in charge of monitoring cyber threats from East Asia, estimated the country raked in 11,000 Bitcoins, which would have been worth $212 million if the repressive state had cashed in its holding when the virtual currency was at its peak in December.
“I would bet that these coins are being turned into something – currency or physical goods – that are supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme,” Moriuchi said.
“It could be pretty simple. After they cash it out, they take the hard cash to a bank that they work closely with. Once they deposit the cash in that bank, then it becomes part of their assets.”
Addressing the Scottish Economics Conference at Edinburgh University last Friday, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said Bitcoin is failing as currency, and should face a regulatory crackdown in the UK