Just a couple of days ago, the NSA and FBI exposed a major Russian state hacking group receiving much appreciation from the cybersecurity community. Now, it has been revealed that the U.S Justice Department has disrupted the finance campaigns involving cryptocurrency of 3 major terrorist organizations marking another victory in cyberspace.
The groups include the following:
Al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas
Ironically, this group boasted of the donations all being completely anonymous making them untraceable. A special incentive offered here was the generation of a unique Bitcoin address for each donor. On the contrary, though, a total of 150 accounts were seized in connection with the organization.
An interesting note here is how the U.S Authorities handled this part. According to the DoJ’s press release, they sought “judicial authorization” and took covert control of the website.
Then they continued to seek donations from donors who believe that they were actually a donation to Al Qassam, the reality of course was far from it with all money going to the government instead.
It is worth noting that Al-Qassam has claimed responsibility for several cyber attacks against Israel including hacking of the satellite communication of Israeli Channel 10 TV station in Israel.
The group then defaced the ongoing transmission with images of Palestinian citizens affected and wounded by Israeli airstrikes over the Gaza Strip in 2014. Moreover, the same group was also accused of DDoS attacks on several American banks.
This terrorist group based in Syria was operating “a bitcoin money-laundering network using Telegram channels” in addition to social media platforms. Moreover, obfuscation techniques were also used to hide their transactions which were of no avail.
In some cases, the operators posed as charities with one incident narrated as the following as stated in the report:
Undercover HSI agents communicated with the administrator of Reminder for Syria, a related charity that was seeking to finance terrorism via bitcoin donations. The administrator stated that he hoped for the destruction of the United States, discussed the price for funding surface-to air missles, and warned about possible criminal consequences from carrying out a jihad in the United States.
Posts from A Syrian charity similarly explicitly referenced weapons and extremist activities:
This was the most interesting amongst the 3 with a man named Murat Cakar who is known to be an “ISIS facilitator” was raising money by selling fake masks & other protective equipment. Claiming to have FDA approved equipment falsely, he offered their delivery worldwide.
This led to both the seizure of the website and the 4 social media pages being run by him.
To conclude, a total of 300 cryptocurrency accounts, 4 websites, and 4 Facebook pages with amounts ranging in the millions of dollars were confiscated. At the moment, the charged defendants have not been proven guilty and so legally, these are just allegations.
We can also expect donors based in the United States and other partner countries that have been identified to be charged soon allowing law enforcement agencies to form a comprehensive picture of such financing campaigns.
This should be another reminder to such groups that despite the use of complex technology, they can still be and will be caught.