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The Interplay Between Russia, Bitcoin, and Election Hacking

With the midterm elections almost here and little to no indications of election involvement of Russian hackers, the question sticks on everyone’s mind – is this really the end? Experts from The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD LinkedIn) advise against raising your hopes.

The controversy related to the 2016 Presidential election hacking has indeed brought about key changes in the government’s policy against foreign-based hackers. National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the US is taking on offensive cyber operations in the defense of the credibility of the electoral process.

Most details of such efforts are classified, but it has been reported to be part of the Trump administration’s approach to form a US cyber command that targets Russian hackers. This kind of technique is referred to as “persistent engagement” and experts say it reflects an important shift to a more comprehensive and aggressive stance in overcoming enemies online.

Without a doubt, this change of policy is a step in the right direction, but the prevailing sentiment is that the United States needs to do more to stop Russia from meddling in succeeding elections. At present, the main area of vulnerability for the US is its knowledge of cryptocurrency.

Indictment filings by Robert Mueller show that Russian hackers operated in the United States using bitcoin. Bitcoin’s huge advantage to regular currency is that it provides full anonymity to users aside from being largely unregulated.

Under the blanket of cryptocurrency, Russian hackers were able to pay for servers and domain names and use virtual private networks (VPNs) not needing any identification. It’s important to know that cryptocurrencies aren’t naturally illegal, but as with all technologies, like the Internet itself, they can be freely used for good or bad ends.

Recently, bitcoin and other blockchain technologies have been massively used by outlaws, including terrorists and spies. The US has made taken bold actions against hackers, but with cryptocurrency, the enemies still get the chance to enlist third-party hackers to hatch their plot untraced. Experts in the field believe the U.S. is not ready to handle the worst possibilities.

Russians hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) led to as much as $95,000 laundered for the operation’s completion. This was meant to hide the agents’ links to Russia.

U.S. investigators successfully uncovered this detail with the use of cryptocurrency analysis software created by the private developer, Elliptic. Information documented in Bitcoin ledgers is mostly anonymous, but the perpetrators left a trace that was enough for investigators to identify them.

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