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Swiss-based company eyes Rock bunkers for Bitcoin mining project

Jon Nazca/REUTERS

WISeKey International, the Swiss-based technology company that last September announced plans for a cross-border research and development centre to spearhead innovation in the region, is exploring using underground bunkers in Gibraltar to set up crypto mining operations.

The company, which was founded by La Linea-born businessman Carlos Moreira, signalled its interest in Gibraltar as it announced plans to invest up to $10m over the next two years to perform Bitcoin mining in its Geneva datacentre and a former Swiss military bunker in the Alps.

WISeKey, which is active in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, said its investment aims to adapt cybersecurity technologies to help customers protect themselves from illicit cryptocurrency mining activities.

“WISeKey’s main objective of entering crypto mining operations is to help its clients protect against crypto jacking that occurs when malicious cyber actors effectively hijack the processing power of the devices and systems by exploiting vulnerabilities (in webpages, software, and operating systems), and illicitly install crypto mining software on victim devices and systems,” the company, which is listed on the NASDAQ and the Swiss stock exchanges, said in a statement.

“Crypto jacking involves maliciously installed programs that are persistent or non-persistent.”

“Non-persistent crypto jacking usually occurs only while a user is visiting a particular webpage or has an internet browser open.”

“Persistent crypto jacking continues to occur even after a user has stopped visiting the source that originally caused their system to perform mining activity.”

“It is estimated that fifty out of every 100,000 devices have encountered a cryptocurrency miner.”

While its plans are initially focused on its Swiss operations, the company has its eye on other potential locations including Gibraltar.

The Rock has miles of military tunnels, some of which have been used for data centre initiatives but most of which lie abandoned and unused.

WISeKey’s crypto mining operations will be performed via a Special Purpose vehicle already created in Zoug with the name TrusteCoin AG.

The company aims to gradually acquire and install over one thousand bitcoin mining machines at its secure Swiss Alps bunker facilities that will be connected to a control center at WISeKey bunker in Geneva.

“WISeKey is also looking at other similar locations offering the same type of bunkers such as in Gibraltar and United States that will be gradually connected to the network taking into consideration regulatory and sustainability aspects,” the company added in the statement.

Last year, WISeKey signed MoUs with Gibraltar and La Linea for a collaborative initiative to create a technological knowledge centre straddling both sides of the border that could act as a catalyst to establish this region as a hub for what the World Economic Forum has termed the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The initiative, launched last week, seeks to bring together companies working in different areas of cutting-edge technology ranging from artificial intelligence to quantum computing, Internet of Things and cybersecurity to grow and develop faster by pooling knowledge and resources.

WISeKey’s idea is to bring together companies operating in different areas of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the technology that goes with it, to share their knowledge and resources with other members of the centre.

"Think of it as an aircraft carrier where people land, refuel their planes, and fly again," Mr Moreira told this newspaper at the time.

"Every company doesn't have to build a huge infrastructure in order to accelerate their research."

"In the same way you plug into the grid for electricity, you plug into the Centre of Excellence and you get everything you need.”

In explaining its decision the Bitcoin mining sector, the company said that after China’s crypto crackdown in 2021, the majority of the world’s Bitcoin mining power settled in the United States.

The US bitcoin mining industry now dominates the Bitcoin mining market and produces over 35% of the world’s bitcoin mining hash rate.

That means “...there is a great opportunity for cybersecurity companies to jump on this market with their technology.”

“Through TrusteCoin AG, WISeKey is surfing the tide of blockchain and NFT interest through a crypto mining venture,” the company said.

“The crypto mining services will be focused on simplifying consumer ownership of secure Bitcoin mining equipment through the integration of cybersecurity offered by WISeKey and smart-contract technologies to simplify the often-intimidating crypto mining process, while providing an affordable entry cost for WISeKey clients.”

WISeKey was one of first ever companies to provide hosting using Swiss Alps bunkers.

The company said the bunker facilities were adequate for critical-mission infrastructures and ideally located to perform Bitcoin mining.

The WISeKey mountain bunker facilities are Swiss military granite bunkers, built in the Swiss Alps to support the data even from nuclear catastrophes.

The bunkers have been transformed to provide an ultra-secure environment for bitcoin mining as they have IT security certifications from the ISO 27001 to the EM-SHIELD seal, which certifies protection against electromagnetic pulse.

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