Top marks for lateral thinking
Co-located cannabis farm + bitcoin mine
West Midlands Police in the UK has revealed that its officers raided a suspected cannabis growing operation and ended up smoking out a Bitcoin mine run on stolen electricity. A statement explains that the site of the raid, a local industrial unit, bore several signs of a wacky baccy cultivation operation. “We heard how lots …
"chronic lack of connectivity to electricity meters was apparent" ... actually police say "enquiries with Western Power revealed the electric supply had been bypassed and thousands of pounds worth had been stolen to power the ‘mine’."
As if there was no physical evidence of bypass and they had to ask Western Power for their opinion. Any losses would be estimated at best no? Odd. The core claim "cannabis farm" is false, the secondary claim "stealing electricity" they offer only fluffy here-say "Western Power said" evidence for.
Dirty servers + clean shelves suggests its just been moved, hence no big bill, yet. Lots of people going in and out also suggests that.
If it turned out they'd raided a legitimate business moving into Tipton, and broke some expensive servers, you can imagine they'd be "well WESTERN POWER said it was stolen!".
Seems to be Great Bridge Industrial Estate, near Tipton,.... just across the road from Western Power Distribution. Again odd coincidence, no?
Likewise the estate is visible from StreetView, and Google Street view images are from 2020, and the miner shown has 2016 written on it, so I'm expecting to confirm evidence of the ventilation since 2016, apparently lots of cabling and ventilation visible, but I'm pushed to identify it. Nope.
Has a funny smell to this story.
Hold up, I think I know what's bothering me here. The *LACK* of smell.
"The strong odors produced by growing cannabis are often described as pungent, skunky, floral, fruity, or even “sewer-like.” Created by the plant's essential oils (terpenes), odors are strongest when the flower is budding"
You have a dense industrial estate with small units. This was claimed to be a cannabis growing operation. Cannabis plants have a pungent smell, not just when smoked, the growing plant has it too. If you wanted to see if a cannabis farm was operating in there, you'd stand outside and smell it.
Go sniff the vents, its a public road, anyone could smell the plants, wouldn't even need a sniffer dog to detect it.
Would you fly a heat detecting drone over houses and industrial estates, then obtain warrants and raid lots of places? No you wouldn't, you'd go walk up and smell the cannabis. A heat detecting drone would produce all sorts of false positives, particularly flying over industrial estates and its far easier to walk down a public road and take a sniff.
At best I also am assuming its mislocated on some news sites I read? Perhaps some barn out in the middle of nowhere? But then the police version of events wouldn't be correct.
Empty property near me was busted when...
...the POLICE DOG HANDLER who lived five doors up and regularly parked the dog van outside took the dogs for their off-duty exercise that way for a change.
I mean, how on earth didn't they notice a marked police dog van a few doors up when bringing the plants in?
As if there was no physical evidence of bypass and they had to ask Western Power for their opinion
An average cop is not an electrical engineer, and not qualified to decide if a meter has been bypassed. An expert could easily bypass a meter while making it look connected. So yes, they asked the experts at the power company for their opinion, of course.
Dirty servers + clean shelves suggests its just been moved,
so I'm expecting to confirm evidence of the ventilation since 2016
Basic contradiction there. Just because equipment is dated in 2016 doesn't mean it was installed at its present site in 2016.
In my last couple of years at a big state university, we had a couple of PDP-11s and a couple of smaller VAXen running in the attic of the house we were renting, with terminals and other peripherals all over the house. By placing a resistor in place of a jumper in the electric meter, we were able to retard the meter by about 97%. The power company finally caught on because our electricity bills were too low. Shoulda used a different resistor. Also, the huge window AC units in the attic windows, running all winter, might have tipped them off. The power company cut of the power and took all the wiring back to the pole, forcing us to move out by lamplight. No one was ever charged with a crime, as a roommate had gotten the service with a fake ID. It's a lot harder to get away with this kind of stuff nowadays.
Any losses would be estimated at best no?
I believe that most substations these days will have their own metering. It would therefore be relatively easy to compare the substation's record with the totals from the connected meters (and unmetered stuff like streetlamps which are predictable).
A large discrepancy such as an unmetered bitcoin farm or cannabis mine should be easily spotted and fairly accurately measured, I would have thought.
From the other side, all you would need would be an idea of the load - and heaters, lamps and GPUs should be fairly predictable - and time it has been running and again, fairly accurately calculated.
"...police say "enquiries with Western Power revealed the electric supply had been bypassed and thousands of pounds worth had been stolen to power the ‘mine’."
As if there was no physical evidence of bypass and they had to ask Western Power for their opinion."
Individual police officers may well have seen evidence of abstraction but obviously, the police are going to ask the utility concerned to provide a definitive and expert statement.
"Any losses would be estimated at best no? Odd."
If the meters have been bypassed, it would seem entirely normal to estimate the amount of electricity abstracted, based on the usage of the equipment removed. There's nothing odd about that - how would you think they would find out how much has been stolen?
The utility will get to charge for the abstracted electricity at the "out of contract rates".
I can never undertsand why they would do the raid when no one is there to arrest!
Surely you would wait until you see some people head inside. I mean have the van full of cops waiting somewhere nearby, have your drone loitering above or set up a quick camera feed, and wait until you see people entering and THEN do your raid.
OK, maybe waiting for people to be inside carries a bit of a risk that one of them might be carrying a weapon, but by raiding when no ones there, you dont actually catch anyone, so the crims are free to go and setup in a new location next week. Seems a bit daft to me...
The neigbouring units would report unusual activity incase they were the ultimate target of a bit of thiefery - particularly if they had been on the recieving end of a canabis farm setup.
I should think that lots of ducting/venting would be a big clue.
If the mine/farm had just been set up then any "plants" would not realy stink until they were nearly ripe.
Bloke round 'ere was caught that way. His garage next to a local "main" road was found because it absolutly stunk. If you dont use the stuff its a truly horrible smell. In this case easily detected by anyone passing by - and it did stink - totaly unmissable as his place was the only building for about a mile either way.
"I should think that lots of ducting/venting would be a big clue."
Or it could be evidence of a legit business installing milling/drilling/sanding machinery, or spray painting booths that extracts the dust etc to the outside. Lots of ducting/venting in and of itself is not evidence of shady shenanigans. But as you point out, the smell of what is traversing the ducting and being expelled by he vents might well be a give away :-)
"I can never undertsand why they would do the raid when no one is there to arrest!"
Well for one thing is safer for the cops....
But mostly because all you usually catch at these sorts of places is low level people who been 'hired' to look after the place
The guys really running it take great care not to be at the place or be linked with it.... not that that helps sometimes when all it takes is a mobile phone number to link them to it...
... I shall be scouring the police auctions for preloved graphics cards
It's odd that there wasn't even a finger-in-the-air estimate of what HW has been confiscated, in £, kg, or even just 'van-fulls.' All the grows busted round here usually result in pics on the cops' social media pages with approx numbers of plants and street value - I had to wait until the story turned up here to see the figure of '100 computer units'
Just to note, it does look like it was an actual bitcoin farm, as compared to GPU or other ASIC farms. Since a lot of times BTC = crypto in the media, it's nice to have them be accurate for once.
There's a couple of pictures up, a close up of a couple of units that are labeled S9, and look like Antminer S9's. Larger shot of about 60 units.
S9 should bang out 2-3 quid a day, while eating 30 kWh. For comparison, that's my entire mining setup (~50 per day) for a single unit. My PV array does about 60kWh, before I get the hair shirt chest beaters.
What I'm curious about is how so much power (50-100 kW units) can be drawn without the power company noticing. Then again, they will insist blind that meters are correct, even when they clearly are bonkers.
The photos in other reports all show banks of machines, not one plugged in to the mains, but still connected to everything else. Did they really just unplug each of them, rather than just switching off the supply, then take the pictures? Seems an odd point to do so. I'd be less surprised to find it was still being set up, hence the lots of visitors.
One would hope that, unless there were imminent danger, nobody would touch anything at all until the forensic bods arrive. The bio team don't want any plod prints or DNA on the kit, and the IT team would probably like to preserve the contents of the RAM or at the very least, maintain access to unlocked encrypted disk volumes. Good luck recovering what's been mined if you need the passwords again.
Typical IT : the overworked tech support being constantly called out to make up for the lack of professionalism at the top of the organisation.......
Being contemptuous of crapto, I wonder how many coins they managed to mine, if any. And how many would be required to recoup the investment. I'd wager that they still lost money on the deal even without electricity costs due to the expense of the hardware.It might be helpful for the police to point this out, before too much more electricity is wasted on similar schemes.
“We heard how lots of people were visiting the unit at different times of day, lots of wiring and ventilation ducts were visible, and a police drone picked up a considerable heat source from above,” the statement said.
Can't say I am au fait with the state of industry today --- and I avoid Industrial Estates like the Covid, on general principles --- but I would have thought a vast number of legitimate enterprises had these characteristics.
If they were tipped off, the informer was evidently wrong about the cannabis; and once upon a time in England ( and maybe still in the USA ) one could get a warrant thrown out if misstated [ even if a name was misspelled, if the jury/magistrate was sympathetic ].
From casual research, LED panels are now available which have a way lower power consumption than the traditional sodium grow-lamps.
Now I don't for one moment think criminals have 'gone green' (well not in that way) - but excessive, even if 'free', electricity consumption generates a lot of heat. A lot of heat needs to be disposed of - and lights up the building to IR cameras and requires venting which puts out that distinctive smell.
Also, whilst definitely not condoning theft of power - I'm always a little dubious of the legality of getting a search warrant for one suspicion and bagging the criminals for another crime entirely. I'd have thought in this case the difference between the observed heat radiation and paid for power would have been enough.
Cannabis needs heat to grow, it's not just an unwanted byproduct of the lighting. A poorly insulated house or warehouse being kept at 30 degrees is always going to stand out.
As for arresting people for a different crime, I'm not sure why so many people seem to think this is a problem. If they'd found someone being stabbed in there, should they not be allowed to arrest anyone for attempted murder just because that's not why they were looking? Obviously fabricating an excuse to go in and then digging around for any reason you can find to arrest people would be a problem, but if you legitimately suspect there is a crime, and then it turns out there actually is one but you happened to be wrong about the exact details, why would that be a problem?
"Cannabis needs heat to grow..."
As long as it's not freezing, most varieties aren't too bothered by lower temps - the Sativa strains originate from high altitude areas so overnight temps of 10c are fine. You'll likely get a slightly lower yield but nothing huge.
Even with LED lighting, you'll still get a surprising amount of heat though and this is where the problems originate from (from literally 'toasting' plants or encouraging mould growth). Most growers work hard to keep the temps down - I even remember seeing water cooled lighting many years ago (for use with sodium or mercury bulbs). If you're running a grow at 30c, you've got serious ventilation problems.
(Used to work in a Hydro shop so picked up a few things lol)
As @irrelevant says, there are lots of photos of the setup available elsewhere. Looks like a bunch of ASICS.
A jolly poor job of the cabling if you ask me. They should chastise their installers and get them back to do it neatly, as we all know. Although TBF they seem to have made quite an effort with the ventilation.
First post to elReg ever. It's an honour.
I'm a civilian that self-computates. 13 years ago, I was schlepping in a retail stockroom when TheReg explained Bitcoin to me.
I asked the young, fresh faced IT guy (no pimples) if a bit-mining op was comparable to a grow-op in power consumption, to which the FFY said:
Once worked on a "fixer upper" cottage. The tool shed behind the garage had an impressive set of light fixtures.
One participant in a discussion about power companies tipping off authorities asserted "they can't tell the difference between a grow house and bitcoin mining". Asked if "you had to explain bitcoin to the cops", replied "no, just showed them my Medicinal Marijuana card".
Some friends were delighted to get cheap rent on offices in an industrial area. One day the water didn't work. Asking a neighbor was told "Oh, yeah they always shut off the water when they are about to raid a meth lab.
A friend's parent (elderly couple) were held at gunpoint for over an hour because the helicopter pilot was off by one street in reporting the address with "evidence of cultivation.
YMMV as to which of these tales are funny.
In winter, a lot of cannabis farms are flagged up, especially when it's snowed. Look for houses that have clear roofs, where the heat from inside the house leaks through the roof enough to melt the snow. Police do also use FLIR cameras on helicopters to do a bit of a flyby at night when it's cool and warm roofs show up a lot. Then you can do another flyby with a drone to see what you pick up. Drones are, despite their whiny buzz, still less obtrusive (everyone and their dog has one these days) than a massive EC135 making a racket above the suspicious property. :-)
As for 'lack of connection to electricity meters', that can be interpreted in a few ways. There's either 'not plugged in at all', or 'plugged into a cable that is not connected to the meter (but the cable connected to incoming supply before the meter)', or 'plugged into a cable connected to a generator'. Looking at the image in the press release, the power distribution box/fuse box looks like someone did do some of the middle one, which does mean Western Power (when they were consulted) was right. And of course, there are other ways and means by which Western Power can figure out whether juice is being borrowed. :-)
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