Alleged cryptojacking scheme consumed $3.5M of stolen computing to make just $1M


Alleged cryptojacking scheme consumed $3.5M of stolen computing to make just $1M

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Federal prosecutors indicted a Nebraska man on charges he perpetrated a cryptojacking scheme that defrauded two cloud providers—one based in Seattle and the other in Redmond, Washington—out of $3.5 million.

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The indictment, filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York and unsealed on Monday, charges Charles O. Parks III—45 of Omaha, Nebraska—with wire fraud, money laundering, and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions in connection with the scheme. Parks has yet to enter a plea and is scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in Omaha on Tuesday. Parks was arrested last Friday.

Prosecutors allege that Parks defrauded “two well-known providers of cloud computing services” of more than $3.5 million in computing resources to mine cryptocurrency. The indictment says the activity was in furtherance of a cryptojacking scheme, a term for crimes that generate digital coin through the acquisition of computing resources and electricity of others through fraud, hacking, or other illegal means.

Details laid out in the indictment underscore the failed economics involved in the mining of most cryptocurrencies. The $3.5 million of computing resources yielded roughly $1 million worth of cryptocurrency. In the process, massive amounts of energy were consumed.

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Parks’ scheme allegedly used a variety of personal and business identities to register “numerous accounts” with the two cloud providers and in the process acquiring vast amounts of computing processing power and storage that he never paid for. Prosecutors said he tricked the providers into allotting him elevated levels of services and deferred billing accommodations and deflected the providers’ inquiries regarding questionable data usage in unpaid bills. He allegedly then used those resources to mine Ether, Litecoin, and Monero digital currencies.

The defendant then allegedly laundered the proceeds through cryptocurrency exchanges, an NFT marketplace, an online payment provider, and traditional bank accounts in an attempt to disguise the illegal scheme. Once proceeds had been converted to dollars, Parks allegedly bought a Mercedes-Benz, jewelry, first-class hotel and travel accommodations, and other luxury goods and services.

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From January to August 2021, prosecutors allege, Parks created five accounts with the Seattle-based “on-demand cloud computing platform” using different names, email addresses, and corporate affiliations. He then allegedly “tricked and defrauded” employees of the platform into providing elevated levels of service, deferring billing payments, and failing to discover the activity.

During this time, Parks repeatedly requested that the provider “provide him access to powerful and expensive instances that included graphics processing units used for cryptocurrency mining and launched tens of thousands of these instances to mine cryptocurrency, employing mining software applications to facilitate the mining of tokens including ETH, LTC and XMR in various mining pools, and employing tools that allowed him to maximize cloud computing power and monitor which instances were actively mining on each mining pool,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.

Within a day of having one account suspended for nonpayment and fraudulent activity, Parks allegedly used a new account with the provider. In all, Parks allegedly consumed more than $2.5 million of the Seattle-based provider’s services.

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The prosecutors went on to allege that Parks used similar tactics to defraud the Redmond provider of more than $969,000 in cloud computing and related services.

Prosecutors didn’t say precisely how Parks was able to trick the providers into giving him elevated services, deferring unpaid payments, or failing to discover the allegedly fraudulent behavior. They also didn’t identify either of the cloud providers by name. Based on the details, however, they are almost certainly Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Representatives from both providers didn’t immediately return emails seeking confirmation.

If convicted on all charges, Parks faces as much as 30 years in prison.

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