The US Department of State is offering a cryptocurrency bounty of up to $10 million (315BTC at the time of writing) in exchange for actionable intelligence concerning cyberattacks perpetrated by foreign governments, in what appears to be a first for the American government.
The offer was announced in a press statement issued on July 15th by the federal agency, which was operating under the Diplomatic Security Service’s Rewards for Justice program.
The payment would be made to anyone who can provide “information leading to the identification or location of any person who, while acting at the direction or under the control of a foreign government, engages in malicious cyber activities against U.S. critical infrastructure,” according to the document.
“Reward payments may include payments in cryptocurrency,” the news release continued.
A representative for the organization confirmed to a surprised that this is “the first time the Rewards for Justice program has awarded a reward payout in bitcoin since its inception in 1984.”
More importantly, it appears to be the first time any US federal government agency has taken the risk. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) both have most-wanted lists with monetary prizes, but none has openly offered to pay in cryptocurrencies (including when the fugitive is wanted in connection with crimes related to cryptocurrency).
For bitcoin supporters, the announcement might be interpreted as the US government admitting that decentralized cryptocurrencies are a viable means of conducting government business.
That’s probably overthinking things. To be eligible for the $10 million rewards, you’d almost probably have to be a Russian or Chinese hacker eager to commit treason by informing a hostile Western government about your operations and chain of command.
The United States Diplomatic Security Service will be well aware that anyone participating in its Rewards for Justice program is putting their life in jeopardy, thus the choice to accept bitcoin payments appears to be primarily pragmatic. The majority of bitcoins are sent using public blockchain networks, which provide greater privacy and less traceability than traditional payment systems.
Informants have also been urged to contact one other using a Tor channel on the Dark Web, which isn’t exactly standard official procedure.
Nonetheless, the fact that the US federal government is now offering to pay for services with cryptocurrencies that operate outside the influence of central banks and other state institutions is historically significant.
That should put any remaining questions about bitcoin’s security to rest, as it is cryptographically unbreakable and can only be seized when it is held incorrectly by entrusting it to third parties.
The method should result in a healthy increase in intelligence tip-offs if it is adopted as a broader government policy.
A concerted ransomware attack originating in Russia impacted the operations of over 1,000 firms employing Kaseya’s IT infrastructure earlier this month. According to software security firm McAfee, cybercrime costs the world economy more than $1 trillion every year, or around 1% of global GDP.