*UPDATE: This story has been updated to correct information and add facts about the outcome of the arrests. It corrects the spelling of Eric Wichmann's name and includes his correct major at MU. It also lists the currency involved as Litecoins and includes more information about the charges Wichmann and Josh O'Steen could face.
COLUMBIA — Two MU students have been accused of running an unauthorized *Litecoin mining operation on computers in the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
MU Police Capt. Brian Weimer said that Eric Wichmann and Josh O'Steen were arrested by MU police Dec. 6 on suspicion of tampering with computer data. Weimer said they were arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor violation of the state tampering statute, though tampering can also be a class D felony.* *Wichmann, an *Internet technology major, and O'Steen, a computer science major, went to the police station voluntarily and were released the same day on a summons, the two students said.
Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Brouck Jacobs said there was no decision yet whether Wichmann and O'Steen will be formally charged since the MU police report had not yet hit his desk.
*They were informed on Dec. 17 that the journalism school would not pursue the charges. The two students instead dealt with the Office of Student Conduct at the university. They were required to write two papers and complete 30 hours of community service.
Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Spencer Bartlett declined to comment on the arrest because the statute of limitations hadn't run out.
Litecoin is a digital currency that operates independent of any government or central authority. Instead of relying on third-party financial institutions to verify each electronic transaction, Litecoin uses a peer-to-peer network of computers to maintain a public record of all exchanges of the digital currency, which is called the block chain.
These networked computers constantly run an open-source application that works out a complex math problem, resulting in an update to the current block of most recent transactions, which is then broadcast to peer computers. The process is called "mining" because the operators of whichever computer completes the current block are awarded newly mined Litecoins.
MU journalism school IT support specialist Justin Giles said he and his co-workers started investigating the case when a lab instructor noticed that one of the iMacs in 45 Walter Williams Hall was behaving oddly. They quickly discovered that someone had bypassed an administrative password and installed the unauthorized mining application on eight separate computers — five more in 45 Walter Williams and two more in the Reynolds Journalism Institute Futures Lab. Giles said the unauthorized activity was a breach of the UM System's Acceptable Use Policy.
The security compromise was only possible through physical access to the computers. A combination of activity logs on the computers and security cameras in the building were used to identify suspects.
Giles said it was the first known incident of this kind in the 10 years he has been working for MU's School of Journalism.