The U.S. State Department has unveiled a new initiative to combat the ever-increasing cases of foreign state-sponsored cybercrime.
The new initiative offers an incentive, up to $10 million, to informants that may have information on hackers. As a pioneering initiative in ensuring that state-backed cybercriminals are brought to book, the Reward for Justice (RFJ) program has taken a new direction from its more than four-decade history.
Media reports indicate that the RFJ program allows informants to receive payments in digital currency and contact the U.S. government for information on critical information via a dark web channel – the RFJ channel is accessible via the Tor network.
The novel RFJ reward system aims to encourage the sharing of helpful information by hackers who might have knowledge about cybercriminal actors behind state-backed operations targeting the government.
Point to note, the RFJ program has long been associated with a reward system to bolster U.S. counterterrorism efforts. It has been offering cash rewards to people for information leading to the prevention of terrorist activities aimed at U.S. citizens and property across the world.
An Unexpected Discovery
According to a media reports, cybersecurity experts attending the world-famous cyber conference Black Hat in Las Vegas encountered an open Wi-Fi network dubbed “#Rewardsnotransoms”.
The interesting angle to the event was the fact that a cyber-event of its stature would have an unprotected network which, it turned out, was an intentional action by the conference organizers.
The attendees, including hackers and seasoned cybersecurity professionals, were able to visit the Rewards for Justice web page after scanning QR codes printed on event merchandise and flyers available at the conference facility.
Reportedly, the website spelled out the State Department’s new program that offers rewards of up to $10 million to persons willing to part with information that may lead to identification of state-sponsored threat actors.
While commenting on the latest development, a State Department official told CNN that the government has been keen to invest efforts in reaching various audiences, sources and people who may have relevant information on matters national security.
Looking back, the past few months have been marked with significant cyber threats targeting notable organization in the United States and across the world.
The Biden administration has been up in arms against cases of state-backed hackers linked to China and Russia – the government has been quick to point fingers at the two nations for showing complacency in bringing the cybercriminals to account.
In June, U.S. authorities seized $2.3 million in cryptocurrency that was part of a $4.4 million ransom paid to DarkSide hackers by Colonial Pipeline, the biggest pipeline system for oil products in the U.S.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the DarkSide hacker group is a Russia-based entity that orchestrated the May cyberattack that caused devastating effects on the U.S. gasoline supply.
Against these backgrounds, the State Department has denounced speculation that the series of cyberattacks and the Biden administration’s apparent displeasure with China and Russia over state-backed hackers are what informed the crypto reward system.
The government official added that the State Department has been busy designing the crypto-enabled informant reward system for some time – the government’s vocal response was just a coincidence.
Further reports point to the positive uptake of the reward system by members of the public. Already, within weeks of the channel’s launch, various people have used the platform to share information about threat actors.
So far, the cybersecurity community is still waiting to see whether the innovative approach will take root, and if the large reward of millions will translate to useful information to help secure government and private sector cyber infrastructure.