The United States has recently indicted a group of 6 members of the Russian military and charged them with ‘Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States’. The offenses listed in the indictment are described as a conspiracy to use hacking and malware to commit offenses against the United States for the strategic benefit of Russia. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were tools used by the defendants to assist with cloaking their identities and facilitating the development of their infrastructure.
In the indictment, prosecutors have specifically named 6 individuals.
- Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko
- Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov
- Pavel Valeryevich Frolov
- Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev
- Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko
- Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin
Each of these individuals were Russian military intelligence officers assigned to Military Unit 74455.
Those involved, referred to as the ‘Conspirators’ by prosecutors, took action in a variety of manners. Regardless of whether this was deploying malicious malware, spearphishing for sensitive data, or some other means, each action was taken with the goal of helping the Russian government.
Prosecutors state that those charged, “…knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other and with persons known and unknown to the grand jury (collectively, the ‘Conspirators’) to deploy destructive malware and take other disruptive actions, for the strategic benefit of Russia, through unauthorized access to victim computers.”
While those named are being charged with ‘conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States’, their past efforts branch out much further.
In addition to thousands being affected within the United States, prosecutors provide the following examples (among many more) of the various targets of the Russian hackers. In each case, the Russian hackers participated in illegal activity, in an attempt to sway world events in a favorable direction for the Russian government.
- Attacked companies in support of Ukraine’s electric power grid, Ministry of Finance, and State Treasury
- Hacked political campaigns on both local and national levels
2018 Winter Olympics
- Utilized spearphishing to retrieve sensitive data from various athletes and countries
- Deployed malicious malware among computer systems
- Deployed a malware attack dubbed ‘NotPetya’, responsible for crippling systems on a global scale (FedEx, Heritage Valley Health System, etc.)
It is widely believed that State-sanctioned hacking groups like Military Unit 7445, are still working hard to manipulate foreign governments. For now, prosecutors will rely on the aforementioned examples, among others, as evidence of this.
Prosecutors allege that the Russian hackers utilized Bitcoin as a means to obscure various purchases associated with their work.
“To further mask their identities and conduct and to facilitate the purchase and leasing of infrastructure (such as servers and domain names) used in their hacking activity, the Conspirators paid for infrastructure using cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin,”
While the hackers would have undoubtedly found a way to complete these actions without cryptocurrencies, cryptocurrencies surely made their efforts easier. Unfortunately, the inherent characteristics of Bitcoin and some cryptocurrencies attract both good and bad users.
Fueling the Narrative
While Bitcoin has endured situations much worse than this Russian conspiracy, instances like this continue to hamper mainstream adoption of the digital asset. For those well-versed in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, they know that there are many legitimate use cases for Bitcoin – this, however, represents a small subset of the general population.
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