Cyberattackers Targeting Supercomputers - British Supercomputer ARCHER Exploited

Britain's most powerful academic supercomputer, ARCHER, has fallen victim to a cryptojacking attack, causing a wave of anxiety among other supercomputer operators across the globe.

What happened

ARCHER, one of the most powerful computers in the world, was exploited via a cyberattack.
  • On May 11, 2020, a security incident had been detected at the British supercomputer named ARCHER. It was revealed that hackers targeted it to mine cryptocurrencies.
  • It is believed that the users' SSH keys were compromised due to the incident.
  • Due to the attack, the operators had to shut down the ARCHER-based services for several days, and the admin passwords and the SSH keys were also reset for all users.

What is so special about ARCHER

ARCHER, the x86 supercomputer serving as the UK's primary academic research, is popular for several reasons.
  • ARCHER (an acronym for Advanced Research Computing High-End Resource) is a Cray XC30 supercomputer, that runs on 118,080 Intel Xeon E5 CPU cores, with a peak performance of 2.551 petaflops.
  • It is hosted by the University of Edinburgh and is offered for use under the UK National Supercomputing Service. It was started in November 2013 and in March 2014, it was identified as the most powerful computing system in the UK and the 19th most powerful on the TOP500 worldwide.
  • It was already due to be retired and end operations in May 2020, to be replaced by ARCHER 2.

Other cyberattacks on supercomputers

Cyberattacks on supercomputers are not entirely unheard of. There have been a few incidents when hackers have tried to compromise supercomputers for some financial or other malicious motives.
  • In February 2018, several Russian scientists working at a top-secret Russian nuclear were arrested when they tried to use the Federal Nuclear Centre's most powerful supercomputers to mine bitcoins.
  • In May 2014, FitzRoy, the $12.7 million supercomputers owned by Niwa, was targeted by a computer hacker, believed to have come from China.
  • In August 2013, a hacker named Andrew James Miller was observed selling the "root" access to the supercomputers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab California for $50,000.