In brief

  • Jonathan Khoo, a former contractor for the Australian government, used research supercomputers to mine crypto in 2018.
  • Khoo has been sentenced to 300 hours of community service but could have faced up to 10 years in jail.
  • Khoo caused $76,000 AUD in lost productivity for less than $10,000 AUD in mining profits.

A former contractor for an Australian government research agency has been sentenced for using supercomputers to mine cryptocurrency in 2018. He avoided maximum penalties of 10 years of jail time; the court instead handed him 300 hours of community service.

Jonathan Khoo, a 34-year old from the north shore of Sydney, Australia was sentenced on Friday for using valuable computing resources at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to mine Ethereum and Monero, a privacy-focused cryptocurrency. 

According to a release from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Khoo’s January 2018 mining operation returned approximately $9,400 Australian dollars ($6,850 USD) while costing the CSIRO at least $76,000 AUD ($55,400 USD) from lost productivity and misconfiguration. 

AFP Commander Cybercrime Operations Chris Goldsmid said in the AFP release that Khoo “diverted these supercomputer resources away from performing significant scientific research for the nation, including Pulsar Data Array Analysis, medical research and climate modeling work to measure impacts to the environment from climate change.” 

Khoo pleaded guilty to charges of unauthorized modification of data to cause impairment before the Downing Centre Local Court in February 2020. 

The charges carried a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but Khoo’s relatively light punishment of 300 hours of community service is partly due to Khoo’s remorsefulness and his cooperation with law enforcement following a search of his home in March 2018, according to a report from itnews.

“The consequences are clear – this was a misuse of Australian taxpayers’ trust by a Commonwealth employee, motivated by personal gain and greed,” said Goldsmid.

Presiding Magistrate Erin Kennedy noted the significance of having a government research organization targeted by a rogue contractor, implying greater harm could have befallen the public resources if Khoo or another actor had more malicious intentions, according to itnews.

Khoo’s mining activities lasted a bit more than a month, and the mining returnsless than $10,000 AUD ($7,000 USD) in allhardly seems worth the penalties. Taking into account his 300 hours of community service, Khoo's crypto-mining journey earned him the equivalent hourly wage of $23.