China-Linked Bitcoin Mine in Wyoming Raises Security Concerns
A recently established Bitcoin mine in Wyoming, believed to be linked to China, has raised significant security concerns due to its proximity to critical sites.
Notably, it is located close to a Microsoft data center and the F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which controls nuclear missiles.
Microsoft’s Warning to Congressional Committee
Microsoft reportedly conveyed its concerns in a confidential report to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in August 2022.
The report suggested that the Chinese-owned Bitcoin mine could enable the Chinese to conduct intelligence collection activities.
Rising Trend of Chinese Bitcoin Mines in the US
Since China’s ban on Bitcoin mines in 2021, Chinese companies have sought refuge in the United States.
These mines, characterized by powerful computing systems and high energy consumption, are cropping up across the country.
The investigation by The New York Times identified Chinese-owned or operated Bitcoin mines in at least 12 US states.
Specific Concerns About the Wyoming Mining Operation
The Bitcoin mining operation in Cheyenne, Wyoming, drew immediate concern from Microsoft due to its proximity to critical facilities.
While Microsoft clarified that there were no direct indications of malicious activities, it expressed worry about the potential threat vectors associated with this operation, considering its computing power and the presence of unidentified Chinese nationals near strategic sites.
Government Tracking and Security Measures
US government officials confirmed that they had been monitoring the Wyoming mining operation for months.
Measures have been taken to mitigate potential intelligence collection at the site, though specific details were not disclosed. The
mining company reported that it had responded to inquiries from the federal investment committee.
Ownership Structure of the Cheyenne Mining Site
The Cheyenne mining site is associated with five companies sharing the same Manhattan address.
While none of these companies had direct ties to the Chinese government or Communist Party, one of them, Bit Origin Ltd, was a Chinese pork-processing company until recently.
Bit Origin’s president cited favorable arrangements with the local electrical utility provider as the reason for selecting the location.
Power Consumption and Grid Vulnerability
The full-capacity operation in Cheyenne would consume electricity equivalent to powering 55,000 households, highlighting the substantial energy requirements of Bitcoin mines.
These mines, with their ability to switch on or off rapidly, raise concerns about potential grid disruption. Defense experts caution that multiple mines operating together could place enormous stress on the power grid.
Cybersecurity Risks and Backdoor Vulnerabilities
Chinese Bitcoin mining companies, like Bitmain, have been scrutinized for potential cybersecurity risks.
Some have identified vulnerabilities that could be exploited through backdoor attacks.
While Bitmain, for instance, has no direct ties to the Chinese government, it has raised concerns by exporting through a subsidiary associated with the Communist Party.
National Security Implications
A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in February warned that China could launch cyber attacks capable of disrupting critical infrastructure in the United States.
Such attacks could be designed to impede US decision-making, induce societal panic, and interfere with the deployment of US forces in the event of a major conflict.