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Is North Korea Turning to Bitcoin to Build More Nuclear Bombs?

14 Setiembre 2017
Is North Korea Turning to Bitcoin to Build More Nuclear Bombs?

North Korean hackers have mounted attacks on at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May, security researcher FireEye said in a report Monday. The firm suspects North Korean actors emailed documents that appeared to be related to South Korea's tax deadline to some of South Korea's cryptocurrency organizations, in an attempt to breach security and steal bitcoin.

North Korea's telecommunications ministry didn't respond to an emailed request for comments.

According to a report by security researchers FireEye, North Korean hackers have shown increasing interest in carrying out bitcoin attacks. In other words, North Korea's hackers had swapped their usual cyber-spying for theft.

It also banned the North's textile exports which are the second-biggest export for the country and worth $752 million, according to data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

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 USA dollars, the FireEye researchers wrote.

"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", the FireEye report said.

"If actors compromise an exchange itself (as opposed to an individual account or wallet) they potentially can move cryptocurrencies out of online wallets, swapping them for other, more anonymous cryptocurrencies or send them directly to other wallets on different exchanges to withdraw them in fiat currencies such as South Korean won, United States dollars, or Chinese renminbi", the report added. FireEye didn't name the exchange. It declined to name the website and said it believes North Korea prefers larger targets like exchanges than individual owners of cryptocurrencies.

In research on cryptocurrency hacking conducted by 'FireEye, ' North Korea was found culpable for unethical hacking of Seoul's cryptocurrency trading. The hackers have also been tied by other security firms to last year's attack on Samsung Electronics Co.'s corporate messenger app and, most prominently, the breach of Sony Corp.'s film studio, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation blamed on North Korea. This marked a departure from previously observed activity of North Korean actors employing cyber espionage for traditional nation state activities.

The malware used in bitcoin hacks is linked to the group suspected of attacks on the payment systems of global banks past year, according to FireEye. A similar technique was used last month to empty the bitcoin wallets related to WannaCry.