Special Counsel: GRU Officers Used Bitcoin to Further DNC Hack Efforts

Special Counsel: GRU Officers Used Bitcoin to Further DNC Hack Efforts

Per Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, 12 officers with Russia’s military intelligence agency G.R.U. have been newly indicted for hacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other major Democratic Party bodies. The court filing of the charges says the group used bitcoin extensively, including mining the crypto, to try masking their activities. 

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New Charges Have Bitcoin Angle

In the latest result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conspiracy investigation, a Grand Jury for the District of Columbia has charged 12 G.R.U. officers with hacking both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as Hillary Clinton’s then-campaign servers.

Of the 11 charges leveled against the dozen agents, the tenth count, “Conspiracy to Launder Money,” detailed how the group — alleged to have operated the Guccifer 2.0 hacker identity that disseminated resulting hacked materials — relied upon a “network of computers located across the world […] and paid for this infrastructure using cryptocurrency.”

An Effort to Hide the Digital Trail

The court filing noted that the G.R.U. agents had used a “variety of currencies” to facilitate the masking of their blackhat efforts via VPNs and other means but had “primarily used bitcoin when purchasing servers, registering domains, and otherwise making payments in furtherance of hacking activity.”

BTC: the currency of choice.
“Perceived anonymity.”

Interestingly, Mueller’s filing said the hackers had used cryptocurrencies because of their “perceived anonymity” — a noteworthy phrasing, not immediately clear if in reference to Bitcoin and its ilks’ already-known but often conventionally unrealized pseudoanonymity, or to more advanced analysis methodologies the Special Counsel might have deployed, e.g. Chainalysis.

The charges indicated the bitcoin arm of the 12 agents’ activities became something of a sweeping operation:

“The Conspirators used several dedicated email accounts to track basic bitcoin transaction information and to facilitate payments to vendors. One of these dedicated accounts, registered with the username ‘gfadel47,’ received hundreds of bitcoin payment requests from approximately 100 different email accounts. For example, on or about February 1, 2016, the gfadel47 account received the instruction ‘[t]o please send exactly 0.026043 bitcoin to’ a certain thirty-four character bitcoin address. Shortly thereafter, a transaction matching those exact transactions was added to the Blockchain.”

The filing also went on to say that the dozen officers had used both mining and cryptocurrency exchanges to attain more bitcoin.

The group is also said to have tried to “hide” their bitcoin activities by “moving funds through other digital currencies.” What these precise currencies were was not specified, neither in the court document nor during DOJ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s July 13th press conference on the charges.

Eye of the Storm

It’s not the first time crypto has turned up as a result of Mueller’s investigation.

Back in February 2018, 13 Russian nationals were indicted by Mueller for meddling efforts. This first group was accused of using fake identities to maintain cryptocurrency exchange accounts to further their operations.

The latest crypto-related wrinkle in the investigation comes at an interesting time, insofar as President Trump just conducted his own first crypto-related act, the signing of an executive order to create a task force focused on tackling financial crimes, with “digital currency fraud” directly within the task force’s purview.

Bitcoin has been labeled “dead” 100s of times hitherto, yet now it finds itself once more near the center of one of the biggest political dramas to yet unfold in the 21st century — a stark irony. Outside of North Korea’s cryptocurrency operations, the current episode also marks the first time a mainstream country’s intelligence service has been officially accused of using digital currencies toward its goals.

For the cryptoverse, it’s a political thread to keep an eye on in the months ahead.

What’s your take? Do you think intelligence services across the world have long used crypto? Sound off in the comments below.  

Images via DOJ, The Daily Beast

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