The US Department of Justice announced in mid-July the launching of a new initiative that offered a $10 million reward to those who provide information on hackers attacking the state-controlled websites.
The official announcement made on 15 July revealed “Rewards for Justice”, a reward program solely aimed at participants who have carried out “malicious cyber activities against U.S. critical infrastructure in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)”.
The program was promoted at the famous ‘Black Hat’ Conference, a globally recognized cybersecurity event that provides security consulting, training, and briefings to hackers, corporations, and government agencies across the globe. This year, the event was held from July 31st to August 5th.
Explaining the purpose of the program, the website stated:
“Commensurate with the seriousness with which we view these cyber threats, the Rewards for Justice program has set up a Dark Web (Tor-based) tips-reporting channel to protect the safety and security of potential sources. The RFJ program also is working with interagency partners to enable the rapid processing of information as well as the possible relocation of and payment of rewards to sources. Reward payments may include payments in cryptocurrency.”
Since then, users have been able to offer relevant information via a secure portal on the Dark Web. The website can only be accessed using a browser for the Dark Web that keeps user identity anonymous.
To offer rewards in cryptocurrency
After the launch, many pointed out that the current reward system might threaten the anonymity of users that provide relevant information on hackers. The foreign government could retaliate against information providers or the US government could track the informants, which might make them hesitant to approach.
Understanding the situation, the government has launched a reward system that allowed informants to receive payment via cryptocurrencies. In an interview with CNN, a state department official noted:
“Within our program there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm because we’re really pushing the envelope every chance we get to try and reach audiences, sources, people who may have information that helps improve our national security. It’s been edgy for some government agencies, perhaps, but we’re going to keep pushing forward in many different ways.”
The government’s official use of cryptocurrencies was well-received within the crypto community. Chris Painter, co-chair of the Ransomware Task Force said to CNN:
“If [informants] can do it anonymously and they get paid anonymously, even if they’re quasi state-sponsored, they might just do it. Because money’s still king.”