While Bitcoin mining is usually left to data center operators, some university pupils have started to try their hand at running their in-dorm mining activities.
Penn State alumnus Patrick Cines shared his foray into crypto mining while on campus grounds, saying “I had basically a box, maybe a foot and a half by a foot and a half tall. It was sitting in, right at the foot of my bed. Had several graphics cards.”
Cines mentioned that while it may have been the device of a gaming hobbyist residing in a cramped dorm room, it was a compact crypto mining rig. He explained that while in operation, the mighty little machine was profitable for a university pupil with crammed schedule since mining farms can function with a “set and forget” mindset.
Although it had side-hustle buffed their wallets, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. “It was unbearable… I had fans running; I had the window open. The first day I was living there, went to Home Depot, bought some dryer tubes, strapped them to the front, and used that to push all the hot air outside of my room,” Cines continued to explain.
For the Penn State graduate, the unbearable heat was all worth it because his rig was way more than a passive source of income. He also mentioned that mining inspired him for the study and development of technology.
“[Mining] was my personal introduction to tech and being in the Blockchain space. So I was really excited to just see every single thing that I did afterwards definitely shaped my college career,” he said.
University administrators fear that the presence of on-campus mining might pose a financial problem. An executive from cybersecurity firm Vectra, Mike Banic, stated that mining might require campuses to foot some hefty electricity bills.
“I think there are a lot of universities that don’t know this is happening. I don’t think that they would want it to happen either, considering it costs $4,700 to mine one bitcoin. That’s about 10 percent of the annual tuition at a private university,” Banic noted.
In Cine’s case, the university paid for his electricity as it is factored into his tuition fee. Despite being aware of the operation, crypto mining is not specified as a prohibited activity in Penn State’s policies, therefore leaving Cine’s action within the legal barriers.
However, that is not the case with all universities. Massachusetts’ Worchester Polytechnic Institute has an “acceptable usage policy” that prohibits pupils from personally benefiting from the consumption of institutional resources such as electricity. Nevertheless, policies regarding mining still differ from a post-secondary institution to another.
Even though the electricity issue has been addressed, Vectra cybersecurity researchers are still concerned about the risks posed by farms like Cine’s. The Vectra executive mentioned that cryptojacking malware could immediately spread within an unsecured school network through an innocent miner’s operations. Banic elaborated that hackers could use mining software as a gateway to compromise a network since nodes continuously communicate with other machines worldwide.
However, Cine claimed that these fears are unwarranted. He rebutted Banic’s concern by saying:
“I think that’s a separate vulnerability, and it goes more to the security that the schools have, or should have. I think mining itself does not open up schools.”
It remains to be seen if Banic or Cine’s statements hold a belief, but as a Vectra study indicates, crypto mining is rapidly spreading to universities throughout America.