Harvard Research Computing Resources Misused for ‘Dogecoin’ Mining Operation

A member of the Harvard community was stripped of his or her access to the University’s research computing facilities last week after setting up a “dogecoin” mining operation using a Harvard research network, according to an internal email circulated by Faculty of Arts and Sciences Research Computing officials.

Dogecoin, a virtual currency which functions similarly to Bitcoin, is a decentralized digital currency that can be “mined” with sophisticated computer algorithms. The individual in question allegedly utilized the high-powered network that Harvard calls the “Odyssey cluster” to collect the coins.

“A "dogecoin" (bitcoin derivative) mining operation had been set up on the Odyssey cluster consuming significant resources in order to participate in a mining contest,” wrote Assistant Dean for Research Computing James A. Cuff, in an email to the FAS Research Computing Users Group last Friday.

Cuff went on to write that research computing resources cannot be used for “personal or private gain or any non-research related activity.” He wrote that the person involved in the mining operation no longer has access to “any and all research computing facilities on a fully permanent basis.”

“Any participation in “Klondike" style digital mining operations or contests for profit requiring Harvard-owned assets to examine digital currency key strength and length are strictly prohibited for fairly obvious reasons,” wrote Cuff.

Cuff and several other officials from FAS Research Computing declined to comment on the mining incident, or to specify the individual involved.

John C. Lo ’16, who has mined bitcoins in the past, said that after investing in standard, personal computing resources for crypto-mining, it would “take quite some time” for a miner to turn a profit. However, he noted, if a miner were to use a high-powered network maintained by a university, like Harvard’s Odyssey cluster, there would be few, if any, overhead costs.

The timing of the alleged mining coincided with an anticipated price fluctuation in the dogecoin market, according to Timothy R. Peterson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department.

Peterson, who invests in dogecoin himself, said half of all dogecoins on the market were mined by last week, initiating a process called “halving.” When half of the total number of coins are mined, the reward for mining goes down, and with it the incentive to mine. Thus, Peterson said, the price of the dogecoin was expected to double shortly after the half-way benchmark.

Although the price did not increase as dramatically as expected, Peterson suspected that if someone had mined for many days last week on the Odyssey cluster, the financial gain could have been in the hundreds, and perhaps thousands of dollars.

A single dogecoin was worth roughly $.0012 at press time.

David Simmons-Duffin, a member of the School of Natural Sciences at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study who received a Ph.D from Harvard in 2012, noted that the Odyssey cluster supposedly used for ‘dogecoin’ mining is quite powerful.

“The Odyssey cluster is a bunch of computers networked together in a way that allows fast data transfer between processors. Although each individual processor isn't much more powerful than your personal laptop, having many processors together can be a huge benefit when doing scientific computing,” Simmons-Duffin wrote in an email, adding that a typical workflow for the cluster could generates the same amount of data in eight hours that a personal computer would generate in a year.

—Staff writer Alexander H. Patel contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at theodore.delwiche@thecrimson.com.

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