Government hackers in North Korea have reportedly made more than $100 million from cyber attacks on cryptocurrencies over the past year.
According to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, the Hermit Kingdom stole almost $7 million from cryptocurrencies Yapizon, Yobit and Coinis, which is now worth just over $80 million. In addition, the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) revealed that Pyongyang had demanded $5.5 million from Bithumb in return for personal data it had stolen from the currency exchange.
Recent intelligence reports also reveal that the North has been hacking Bitcoin exchanges in an effort to profit from the most successful cryptocurrency’s surging value. Although North Korea has repeatedly denied involvement in international currency attacks, experts claim that Kim Jong-un has made tens of millions of dollars using a team of hackers to exploit security weaknesses. This has allowed him to evade many of the sanctions placed on North Korea by the United Nations as a result of its ongoing nuclear weapons program.
Security Researcher Ashley Shen told the U.K.’s Sky News:
“We assume one of the reasons why Bitcoin is being attacked is because the price keeps increasing and we think it’s reasonable for hackers [to target it]. Digital currency might be easier to gain than physical currency, so I think it’s reasonable.”
Bitcoin has increased substantially in value over the last year, driven almost entirely by speculative buying and selling. The cryptocurrency is up approximately 1,500 percent this year, with a single Bitcoin reaching $16,000 in a dramatic rise earlier this week. This week, online currency-mining marketplace NiceHash suspended its operations after hackers stole around $64 million worth of Bitcoin.
Ms. Shen and her team tracked attacks made by North Korean hacking groups Lazarus, Andariel and Bluenoroff on the Bitcoin exchange and several major financial institutions in Europe and South Korea.
“Before, when we tracked nation-state attackers, they usually performed cyber attacks which are aimed for confidential data and intelligence,” she said, “However recently we’ve discovered that some of the Advanced Persistent Threat groups are trying to hack financial institutions like banks and Bitcoin exchanges to gain financial profit.”
The recent sanctions applied by the United States and U.N. could be having crippling effects on North Korea’s finances. A member of her team told Sky News: “Just a few years ago the attacks were initiated to paralyze the society, but for some time now they’ve been hacking for money, so I kind of wonder if they are facing financial difficulties.”
Ms. Shen expects the targeting of banks and Bitcoin attacks to increase, particularly while the value of the cryptocurrency continues to rise.