Earlier this month, a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly after an extremist rammed his car into a group of protestors. In the rally’s aftermath, various tech companies, including GoDaddy and CloudFlare, decided to stop servicing the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, temporarily banishing it into the deep web.
The website now struggles to maintain its presence on the surface web, but its staff still manages to raise funds through bitcoin donations. A quick look at an address believed to belong to The Daily Stormer reveals that the website raised over $74,000 since it was set up. According to Motherboard, the website started accepting bitcoin back in 2014, and has received over $200,000 in the digital currency since then. It isn’t the only extremist website using bitcoin to raise funds.
To help reveal just how much these websites make, and in an attempt to tackle their funding campaigns, security researcher John Bambenek set up a Twitter bot that monitors a handful of bitcoin wallets associated with neo-Nazi organizations, and tweets whenever a donation is made. Occasionally, it also tweets updates on the amount of money these bitcoin wallets have.
Speaking to Motherboard, Bambenek stated that he created the bitcoin-tracking Twitter bot because he rarely has a chance to “code interesting short-term things with impact,” and because he doesn’t like neo-Nazis. By bringing attention to the amount of bitcoin these websites are being able to raise, the security researcher hopes he can pressure organizations not to accept it. He stated:
“I want to make it difficult for them to raise it, store it, and spend it”
Bitcoin’s nature allows anyone, including extremists, to simply open new bitcoin wallets, pass received donations through a mixing service, and freely use the money. According to Bambenek, however, this isn’t a problem, as most neo-Nazi sympathizers can barely use cryptocurrencies. As such, if these websites do open new addresses, they’ll struggle to get them out there and receive donations.
Earlier this month, a Twitter account believed to belong to The Daily Stormer tweeted that popular wallet and exchange Coinbase deleted accounts who tried to send them bitcoin. As many bitconers rely on services provided by Coinbase, this means a lot of donations can be stopped.
Bambenek modeled his Twitter bot on similar ones created to track wallets associated with WannaCry’s global ransomware campaign. Eventually, he plans on releasing the code behind it so it can be modified to help track other groups collecting funds through bitcoin donations. However, given the cryptocurrency’s nature, these bots won’t do much from stopping it from happening.
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