There are new charges against 12 Russian military officers accused of conspiring to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election. The charges state that Bitcoin was used by the defendants to funnel money to purchase a virtual private network (VPN) account, lease a server in Malaysia fund and to set up a Bitcoin mining operation.
The indictment, produced by a team of investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller, charges 12 Russian intelligence offer with hacking Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Count 10 of the indictment details how the hackers allegedly used Bitcoin in a conspiracy to launder money.
“To facilitate the purchase of infrastructure used in their hacking activity—including hacking into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and releasing the stolen documents—the Defendants conspired to launder the equivalent of more than $95,000 through a Web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.”
Mixing Bitcoin with Traditional Currencies
The conspirators used a mix of currencies, including US dollars, as well as Bitcoin.
“Although the Conspirators caused transactions to be conducted in a variety of currencies, including U.S. dollars, they principally used bitcoin when purchasing servers, registering domains, and otherwise making payments in furtherance of hacking activity. Many of these payments were processed by companies located in the United States that provided payment processing services to hosting companies, domain registrars, and other Vendors both international and domestic. 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.”
One of the conspirators’ dedicated accounts received hundreds of Bitcoin payment requests from approximately 100 different email accounts.
“In addition to mining bitcoin, the Conspirators acquired bitcoin through a variety of means designed to obscure the origin of the funds. This included purchasing bitcoin through peer-to-peer exchanges, moving funds through other digital currencies, and using pre-paid cards. They also enlisted the assistance of one or more third—party exchangers who facilitated layered transactions through digital currency exchange platforms providing heightened anonymity.”
The defendants work for two units of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff known as the GRU. According to the 11-count indictment, they used a technique called spear phishing, a fraudulent practice that involves sending emails as a fake trusted sender to trick individuals into revealing confidential information, such as passwords.
The defendants are also accused of hacking into computer networks to install malicious software to spy on users, capture keystrokes, take screenshots and erase digital data, targeting state election boards and other government agencies.
No Americans were implicated and there was no statement suggesting that the Russian hacking conspiracy changed the US presidential vote count or the election’s outcome.