People are definitely spending bitcoin, just maybe not the kind of people proponents of cryptocurrency adoption had in mind.
A lengthy indictment from the Justice Department dropped today, accusing seven Russian intelligence officers of conspiring to hack anti-doping agencies around the world in retaliation for their efforts to expose Russian athletic doping. And, at least according to the US officials, the GRU hacking group mined bitcoin to fund its efforts.
“The pool of bitcoin generated from the GRU’s mining activity was used, for example, to pay a United States-based company to register the [phishing] domain wada-arna.org through a payment processing company located in the United States,” reads the indictment. “The conspirators used the same funding structure—and in some cases, the very same pool of funds—to purchase key accounts, servers, and domains used in their anti-doping related hacking activity.”
As a result, the Justice Department is charging the seven Russian officers with “[conspiring] to launder money through a web of transactions structured to capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.”
Clearly, the GRU officers’ efforts at anonymity failed in the long term. Their hacking efforts, on the other hand, appear to have largely succeeded.
The indictment lays out how the group stole the medical information of around 250 athletes, and released that information — sometimes in altered form — to “damage the reputations of clean athletes from various countries by falsely claiming that such athletes were using banned or performance-enhancing drugs.”
Interestingly, the officers — operating under guise of a hacking group named Fancy Bear — aggressively courted reporters in an effort to spread their propaganda. The indictment claims they hit up around 116 reporters on Twitter offering access to the hacked and secretly altered docs, and exchanged emails with around 70 reporters.
The list of the GRU’s targets, at least in this specific campaign which reportedly began as earlier as 2014, include organizations based in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, and Mexico. Specifically, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the International Association of Athletics Federations, The Court of Arbitration for Sport, and FIFA were all targets.
But there was more. The same hackers also hit a Pennsylvania nuclear energy company, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Spiez Swiss Chemical Laboratory. The latter had done work analyzing “the chemical agent connected to the poisonings of a former GRU officer and others in the United Kingdom,” notes the indictment.
Essentially, it reads as if this crew was out for revenge on behalf of the Russian government. It just so happens that bitcoin paved the particular road there.