Economy

North Korean Hackers are Stealing Bitcoin to Fund Kim Jong Un's Regime

North Korean Hackers are Stealing Bitcoin to Fund Kim Jong Un's Regimeā€

"They're pretty capable actors in comparison to other North Korean activity we see", said McNamara.

With more sanctions likely and usage of cryptocurrencies broadening, experts say North Korea's embrace of digital cash will increase.

A cybersecurity firm has revealed details of a campaign by state-sponsored North Korean hackers to steal bitcoin from South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges.

FireEye says it has identified three attacks against South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges that took place between May and July, all of them linked to North Korean hackers.

They frequently use tax-themed lures and deployed malware and variants linked to the North Koreans who are suspected of being behind intrusions into global banks in 2016, FireEye said.

Kim's apparent interest in cryptocurrencies comes amid rising prices and popularity.

Researchers point to multiple attacks, including one incident in April where South Korean bitcoin exchange Yapizon lost over $5 million in user funds and bitcoin due to a wallet compromise.

The North Korean government has repeatedly denied involvement in worldwide cyberattacks. This trend comes as the price of the cryptocurrency is surging, and also as the global community imposes tough new sanctions on the rogue regime.

Early May - Spearphishing against South Korean Exchange #1 begins.

Attacks on the South Korean exchanges were carried out through so-called spear-phishing attacks, or emailing files laced with malware to specific targets.

North Korea is believed to be stealing bitcoin from cryptocurrency exchanges, security researchers believe, in an attempt to get around tough new sanctions against the country. North Korea's Office 39 is involved in activities such as gold smuggling, counterfeiting foreign currency, and even operating restaurants.

Tracking down the culprit of a cyberattack is generally hard, and North Korea has generally denied any part in global cyberattacks, despite being linked to the devastating WannaCry ransomware attack in May.

FireEye said if the hackers wanted to convert bitcoin or ethereum into dollars or won, they'd likely first exchange them into harder-to-trace cryptocurrencies like Monero and then into fiat currency.

"As bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have increased in value in the previous year, nation states are beginning to take notice", Luke McNamara, senior cyber threat intelligence analyst at FireEye, wrote in the report.

With fresh United Nations sanctions and bitcoin's skyrocketing value, "the potential windfall from these attacks has risen accordingly", Boland said. In other words, North Korea's hackers had swapped their usual cyber-spying for theft. Cyber criminals may no longer be the only nefarious actors in this space.



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