US indicts 6 Russians over cyber attacks paid for in digital currencies

The U.S. Department of Justice has unsealed charges against six Russians, accusing them of being behind some of the biggest cyber-attacks in recent times. The six are alleged to have relied on digital currencies in making payments to mask their identities.

In its press release, the DoJ claimed that the six accused work for the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a military agency in the Russian army. The six, together with several other co-conspirators carried out “the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group,” according to federal authorities.

They were allegedly responsible for the spearphishing campaigns and related hack-and-leak efforts targeting French president Emmanuel Macron’s political party in April and May 2017. In 2015, they reportedly attacked Ukraine’s electric power grid, the State Treasury Service and the Ministry of Finance.

In 2018, the group allegedly targeted the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, attacking South Korean citizens, Olympians, visitors and partners. The DoJ said the attack was retaliation for a decision made to bar Russian athletes from competing after doping allegations.

Their alleged biggest attack was in 2017 when they unleashed the NotPetya malware that infected computers worldwide. Three of its victims—a hospital in Pennsylvania, a FedEx subsidiary, and a U.S pharmaceutical company—collectively lost over $1 billion as a result of the attack.

To avoid detection by security experts or law enforcement agencies, the Russians allegedly relied on fictitious names, fake websites and digital currencies to mask their identities.

“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,” the DoJ stated.

The department has charged the six with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, intentional damage to protected computers and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, they face a maximum of 73 years behind bars.

The charges come just weeks before the upcoming November 2020 U.S. presidential elections. With the hackers being accused of influencing the French elections, the U.S. will be on high alert to prevent a similar fate.

Russian hackers have long been linked to some of the biggest cyber-attacks in the digital currency industry. As CoinGeek reported, an investigation into the $530 million Coincheck hack pointed to Russian hackers.

See also: CoinGeek Live panel on Digital Currency & Global Compliance: Tools & Tips for Exchanges, Wallets & Other Service Providers.

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