The US State Department knows it's 'pushing the envelope' as it offers up to $10 million rewards for crypto-hacking intel, according to new interview

The US State Department knows it's 'pushing the envelope' as it offers up to $10 million rewards for crypto-hacking intel, according to new interview
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  • State Department officials told CNN an "edgy" program to pull in cyber-crime tips by paying up to $10 million rewards is aimed at reaching a new pool of informants.
  • The agency will allow informants with verifiable information about foreign-backed hacking schemes to be paid in cryptocurrency.
  • Officials have already started receiving tips via its channel on the Dark Web.

The US State Department says its initiative to pay informants for information about certain hacking schemes with cryptocurrency and to allow communication through a secure portal on the Dark Web is aimed at reaching potential sources on turf that's familiar to them, according to an interview with agency officials conducted by CNN.

The agency for the first time is allowing informants to elect to receive reward payments using cryptocurrency. The move is in connection with an offer of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of cyberhackers backed by foreign governments who target US infrastructure. Officials told CNN they have started receiving tips through a recently opened channel accessible on the Dark Web using the Tor browser.

"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," an unnamed State Department official told CNN in an interview published Sunday, the first since the announcement. "It's been edgy for some government agencies, perhaps, but we're going to keep pushing forward in many different ways."

CNN said the reward was "quietly" announced in June as part of a raft of other actions the Biden administration was enacting to improve the country's cybersecurity.

The Biden administration in recent months has accused hackers working for Russia and China of breaching numerous US agencies and departments and the administration has made fighting ransomware a top priority.


The FBI in June seized $2.3 million worth of bitcoin out of a $4.4 million ransom that oil pipeline system operator Colonial Pipeline had paid to DarkSide. The FBI said the group, believed to be based in Russia, was behind a May cyberattack against the privately held company that led to gasoline shortages across the southeastern US.

The officials declined to describe the tips they have received through the Dark Web channel because of the sensitive nature of the information and sources, the report said.

"Something on the Dark Web that allows total anonymity and an initial level of security is probably more appropriate for those folks," CNN quoted a second unnamed State Department official as saying. "So just finding people where they are and reaching them with the technology on which they are most comfortable, I think, is the name of the game for Rewards for Justice."