Why steal bitcoin when you can steal the technology that enables one to make more of it?
Clearly, this is the question a group of Icelandic thieves pondered before making their move on 600 computers used to "mine" bitcoin. The hardware was reportedly snatched from data centers in Iceland in what local law enforcement calls the biggest theft in the island nation's history. Thus far, 11 people have been arrested in connection with the crime that the Icelandic media have called the "Big Bitcoin Heist."
A judge at the Reykjanes District Court on Friday ordered two people to remain in custody; one of those swept up in the arrests was a security guard.
As for the computers themselves, they have not been found and are worth around $2 million. But if the thieves intended to actually use the computers to extract bitcoin, they could theoretically pull in an even greater profit all in an untraceable digital currency.
"This is a grand theft on a scale unseen before," said Olafur Helgi Kjartansson, the police commissioner on the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula, where two of the burglaries took place. "Everything points to this being a highly organized crime."
The computers were stolen over the course of four heists, three in December and one in January, but the news had not been made public while the authorities were still looking for suspects.
Iceland has been a particularly popular spot for miners, as solving the complex mathematical codes required to extract bitcoin requires a massive amount of electricity (cold weather helps as well). Iceland has lots of cheap power thanks to geothermal and hydroelectric power plants and is plenty cold. But because they are such power consumers bitcoin mines can be hard to hide and this week Icelandic Authorities called on local internet providers, electricians and storage space units to report any unusual requests for power.
The news comes as bitcoin has been taking fire in increasingly loud tones - for being a destabilizing force in the international market.
In a speech to the Scottish Economics conference, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said a "global speculative mania" has "encouraged a proliferation of new cryptocurrencies" and said they should be held to the "same standards" as the rest of the financial system.
"Being part of the financial system brings enormous privileges, but with them great responsibilities," Carney noted.
One of those responsibilities?
Don't' steal other people's computers.