The office of special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into email accounts belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election. The indictment, which was released on Friday, included details about the hackers’ use of cryptocurrency to carry out their operation.
The officers allegedly used cryptocurrency to purchase the servers and other equipment necessary for the email breaches, and even mined bitcoin to help fund their activities. For example, they used the mined bitcoin to register the domain dcleaks.com, where some of the stolen emails were published, and to lease the Malaysian server that hosted the website.
“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,” the indictment reads. Bitcoin has long been the currency of choice for people looking to engage in illegal transactions on the web, because you do not need to provide personally identifying details to use it. The indictment notes that the cryptocurrency allowed the hackers to “avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions,” which would have made it easier for investigators to track the payments.
In an attempt to further conceal their identities, the intelligence officers created hundreds of different email accounts to make the purchases, converted funds into different cryptocurrencies, and acquired bitcoin through peer-to-peer exchanges. Investigators found that the same computers that were facilitating the bitcoin transactions were also used to create and send test spearfishing emails.