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Russians are receiving text messages about the U.S. State Department’s $10 million reward for information on election interference

Source: Meduza

Residents of cities across Russia are receiving SMS messages about the U.S. State Department’s newly announced $10 million “Rewards for Justice” (RFJ) offer for information that helps identify or locate hackers attempting to interfere in the 2020 presidential elections, reports the Russian outlet TJournal

A screenshot of the SMS messages shared with “TJournal”
“TJournal” / Twitter

Russian social media users began sharing screenshots of these messages online on August 6, the day after the U.S. State Department announced the reward offer. Reports about the messages also started to appear in local news outlets, such as the Yekaterinburg-based outlet It’s My City and the Vladivostok-based outlet Vl.ru, among others. According to the website Pikabu.ru, residents of the Russian cities of Saratov, Krasnodar, Ulyanovsk, Chelyabinsk, Perm, and Tyumen also reported receiving similar messages. 

“Did the #StateDepartment write you an SMS?”

Yekaterinburg Duma Deputy Timofey Zhukov even published a screenshot of the message he received on Telegram, revealing that it was sent through the program “CentrSoobsh” — a service typically used for delivering spam or phishing messages, says Newsru.com

Yekaterinburg Duma Deputy Timofey Zhukov’s screenshot, shared on Telegram

Who’s sending the messages and whether or not they are connected to the U.S. State Department remains unknown. According to Vl.ru, the phone number that sent the text messages doesn’t accept replies. One reader told It’s My City that she actually received two messages: one in English and one in Russian. 

The text messages supposedly contain a link to a post by the verified twitter account @RFJ_Russian (Rewards for Justice, Русский). The tweet, written in Russian, explains the State Department’s reward offer and provides contact information through the messaging apps Telegram, WhatsApp, and Signal. It also contains the English-language hashtag #Election_Reward, which leads to posts in a number of different languages about Rewards for Justice offers (many of the posts are from verified accounts apparently linked to the U.S. State Department).

The linked post about the reward offer from @RFJ_Russian

TJournal’s editor wrote to the Telegram bot, but received no reply. The WhatsApp number responded with seemingly automated messages in several languages, encouraging the user to share data about election interference in the chat. 

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded to the announcement in a Facebook post poking fun at the idea of the State Department offering $10 million “to each person” that comes forward with information. “Now the State Department’s site will go down from denunciations about its neighbors,” Zakharova wrote. 

According to the American business technology news website ZDNet, this is the third time the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program has offered a multi-million-dollar reward for information about cyber threats. The State Department offered $5 million for information on North Korean government hackers in April 2018, as well as two separate $1 million rewards for information on two Ukrainian hackers in July of this year.

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Text by Eilish Hart

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