For years, bitcoin believers have tried to distance the digital coin from the perception that it's only used for criminal activity. New insights into Russian meddling in the U.S. election aren't helping.
Bitcoin was the currency of choice among the Russian intelligence officers indicted for hacking offenses related to the 2016 presidential campaign, the U.S. said Friday. The conspirators primarily used the virtual coins when buying servers, registering domains and making other payments related to the cyber breaches, according to the indictment. Many of the transactions were processed by U.S. companies.
"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," the U.S. said.
The 12 intelligence officers indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller are members of the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency. They are accused of stealing usernames and passwords of volunteers in Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign, including its chairman, John Podesta. They also hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in an operation starting around March 2016, the filing said.
The group allegedly mined bitcoin to pay a Romanian company to register the domain "dcleaks.com," for example. They also bought bitcoin by using peer-to-peer exchanges, moving funds through other cryptocurrencies and setting up prepaid cards, according to prosecutors.
"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," the U.S. said.