Secret Bitcoin stash in North Korea?


Local news reports said that in May Yapizon had more than 3,800 bitcoins worth $15 million stolen - although FireEye said there were no clear indications of North Korean involvement in that case.

It is on these premises that hackers in North Korea have been launching successive cyber-attacks on Bitcoin since 2016 when the first incidents of cryptocurrency attacks were traced to Pyongyang.

One of the method hackers from the other side of the demilitarized zone uses to attack South Korea's Bitcoin market is via virus infected emails that steals sensitive information from the recipient once the email is opened or a link in it is clicked.

With tightening sanctions and the use of cyber currencies broadening, security experts say North Korea's embrace of digital cash will only increase. North Korea has denied all responsibility.

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"With North Korea's tight control of its military and intelligence capabilities, it is likely that this activity was carried out to fund the state or personal coffers of Pyongyang's elite, as worldwide sanctions have constricted the Hermit Kingdom", FireEye said in a statement. North Korean hackers have mounted attacks on at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May, security researcher FireEye said in a report Monday. In April, roughly $5.3 million in bitcoin was reported stolen from Yapizon, a prominent South Korean exchange. It declined to name the website and said it believes North Korea prefers larger targets like exchanges than individual owners of cryptocurrencies.

"North Korea's Office 39 is involved in activities such as gold smuggling, counterfeiting foreign currency, and even operating restaurants", alleges the report. As the regulatory environment around cryptocurrencies is still emerging, some exchanges in different jurisdictions may have lax anti-money laundering controls easing this process and make the exchanges an attractive tactic for anyone seeking hard currency.

But there was another factor: "You also have cryptocurrencies appreciating significantly since the beginning of the year". He said so far he did not have evidence that Kim Jong Un's regime has targeted cryptocurrency exchanges outside of South Korea, but did not rule out the possibility in the future.

"Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have increased in value in the past year, nation states are beginning to take notice", FireEye said."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". These actors have begun directing their focus on banks and global financial systems, something, the FireEye researchers claim that is outside the traditional forms of cyber espionage they observe as being associated with the country.