Economy

Researchers think North Korea is stealing bitcoin to avoid sanctions

Researchers think North Korea is stealing bitcoin to avoid sanctions”

"Sanctions against North Korea are likely to fuel their cybercrime activity", said Bryce Boland, Singapore-based chief technology officer with FireEye.

Now, we may be witnessing a second wave of this campaign: state-sponsored actors seeking to steal bitcoin and other virtual currencies as a means of evading sanctions and obtaining hard currencies to fund the regime.

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.

April 22 - Four wallets on Yapizon, a South Korean cryptocurrency exchange, are compromised. However, FireEye noted that some of the tactics and procedures reportedly used during this attack were different than the ones seen in the May attacks noting that there are "no clear indications of North Korean involvement". The spike in activity began soon after the USA said it planned to ratchet up sanctions against North Korea. This trend comes as the price of the cryptocurrency is surging, and also as the worldwide community imposes tough new sanctions on the rogue regime.

Specifically, the hackers began targeting South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges.

And North Korea is already involved with other types of illicit currency smuggling, like counterfeiting foreign currency and gold smuggling.

North Korea seems to be ramping up cyberattacks to steal Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that could be used to circumvent trade restrictions and global sanctions and obtain hard currencies to fund the regime.

North Korean hackers have previously targeted South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, stealing bitcoin worth $88,000 (at the time) between 2013 and 2015, according to Yonhap News, which cited South Korean cybersecurity firm Hauri.

If hackers manage to compromise an exchange - as opposed to a single wallet - they can move cryptocurrencies around, then swap them for hard currencies like South Korean won or United States dollars, the FireEye researchers wrote.

The move to cryptocurrencies follows previously identified state sanctioned cyber crimes past year and as the price of bitcoin rockets. Recently, an advisor to President Putin in Russian Federation announced plans to raise funds to increase Russia's share of bitcoin mining, and senators in Australia's parliament have proposed developing their own national cryptocurrency.

Another huge appeal for cryptocurrencies is that there's still very little regulation, though that's changing fast.

Consequently, it should be no surprise that cryptocurrencies, as an emerging asset class, are becoming a target of interest by a regime that operates in many ways like a criminal enterprise.



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