Guyanese prisoners ‘forced to calculate cryptographic hashes’


The overlooked South American state has suffered worse economic troubles than neighbouring Venezuela, and is reportedly seeking to use bitcoin to stabilise its currency reserves.

Reports suggest that convicted white-collar criminals in the South American country of Guyana are being forced to work to support state-sponsored Bitcoin mining.

The small, densely-forested nation has — like so many of its neighbours — suffered from serious economic mismanagement and hardship over recent years. And, like many of its neighbours (most notably Venezuela) its citizens have turned to Bitcoin as a means of storing value when faced with the hyperinflation of their local currency, the Guyanese dollar.

The difference is that these efforts are eclipsed by those of the Guyanese administration. Research suggests the state is mining and stockpiling Bitcoin in an effort to stabilise its currency and store value in a currency that will not depreciate in value.

However, Guyana has few up-to-date technological resources, and has therefore brought all the legacy equipment it can to bear on the task of Bitcoin mining. This hardware — which reportedly includes devices as old as BBC Micros and ZX Spectrum computers from the 1980s — is operated by white collar criminals, who have at least a basic grasp of mathematics and IT.

‘Hashing is actually a very straightforward operation,’ comments Professor Samuel Hughes from the University of Wisconsin. ‘It’s repetitive and computationally demanding in terms of CPU cycles, but it’s not complicated. It’s quite possible to calculate a hash by hand.’

In fact, that is allegedly what many prisoners are being forced to do. Reports have surfaced in recent weeks of camps in which rooms of men and women are held for up to 16 hours a day and forced to conduct the simple but time-consuming mathematical operations that constitute a cryptographic hash. ‘It could take many hours to create a single SHA256 hash,’ one former prisoner stated, on condition of anonymity. ‘We were never sure whether these were used in some way to mine Bitcoin, or whether it was a punishment or test. We were given only a pencil, paper and rudimentary calculator. Those who performed well were taken to the computer suite, where they would help manage the vast network of antiquated machines. Because these were never designed for such computationally intensive work, they often failed and needed to be rebooted, repaired or replaced.’

Mining Bitcoin in this fashion is extremely inefficient, and it is not known what total output of hashrate the Guyanese administration is responsible for. Blockchain analysis by crypto security firm BlockSec suggests that Guyana has mined or otherwise acquired over 100 BTC, though the real amount may be much higher.

Article by Moonhub

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