U.S. Justice Department Accuses Russia of Funding Cyberattacks With Bitcoin

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A Justice Department indictment against seven Russian military officers filed in July 2018 contains new allegations that  Russia used bitcoin to fund its cyber attacks, MarketWatch reported on October 4.

Russians Meddled with the 2016 Presidential Election

The Justice Department indictment against seven Russian military officers for a series of alleged cyber attacks contained another allegation that Russia turned to bitcoin to fund its efforts, Market Watch reported on October 4.

The indictment, while filed back in July 2018, was unveiled to the public only on October 3. In the indictment, the Grand Jury for the District of Columbia charged seven Russian military officers as being responsible for hacks that were used to Russian strategic interests, notably a bid to delegitimize the efforts of international anti-doping organizations.

According to the indictment, the accused officers were members of a military intelligence agency called the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), which had multiple units engaged in large-scale cyber operations that involved staged releases of stolen documents.

Some of the most notable attacks the agency performed were hacking email accounts of employees of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as well as hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) computer network.

Diplomatic passports used by some of the accused GRU officers

(Source: BBC)

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MarketWatch reported that the indictment also accuses Russians of attempting to hack into the networks of the independent agency testing the chemical agent that U.K. authorities have been investigating the poisoning of a former GRU officer. The indictment also claims the Russians were behind hacks into Pittsburgh-based nuclear power and technology firm Westinghouse Electric Co., which has been supplying Ukraine with increasing amounts of nuclear fuel.

Russian Cyberattacks Were Paid for Using Bitcoin

According to the indictment, bitcoin was the currency behind all of the Russian’s efforts, saying that it was the most commonly used means of payment.

“The use of bitcoin allowed the conspirators to avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions, allowing them to evade greater scrutiny of their identities and sources of funds,” the indictment read.

The Justice Department also believes that many of these payments were processed by companies located in the U.S. The indictment provided insight on how Russians managed to fund their extensive cyber attacks, with the earliest ones being traced back all the way to 2014. According to the indictment, the Russians mined bitcoin to finance the purchase of computing infrastructure that would support their hacking activities.

Despite the similarities between the accusations the seven Russian officers faced in the July indictment and special counsel Robert Mueller’s election meddling investigation, the Justice Department said that the new case didn’t stem from Mueller’s work, despite involving three of the same defendants.