N.Korea Hackers Step up Bitcoin Attacks

N.Korea Hackers Step up Bitcoin Attacks

The malware found in the emails were similar to variants linked to North Korean hackers suspected to the perpetrators of cyber-heists from global banks previous year. The spike in activity began soon after the USA said it planned to ratchet up sanctions against North Korea. Yet, given North Korea's position as a pariah nation cut off from much of the global economy - as well as a nation that employs a government bureau to conduct illicit economic activity - this is not all that surprising. State-sponsored North Korean cyber-criminals have been targeting banks and the global financial system for some time in order to fund the isolated state, or perhaps just the "personal coffers of Pyongyang's elite", as worldwide sanctions have restricted the country's economic activity.

North Korea is suspected of intensifying cyber-attacks to steal virtual currency in order to obtain funds and avert tightening sanctions, according to security experts.

Prior to this activity four wallets on Yapizon, a South Korean cryptocurrency exchange were compromised on April 22 - although FireEye says there is no indication of North Korea involvement with this.

South Korea has become one of the world's busiest trading hubs for cryptocurrencies, with Seoul-based Bithumb ranking as the world's largest exchange for the ethereum virtual currency. Four days later, FireEye researchers' timeline shows the United States and the wider global community working toward increased economic sanctions.

FireEye suggested that the attacks were not the only link between North Korea and cryptocurrencies.

North Korean actors used "spearphishing" attacks targeting the personal email accounts of employees at digital currency exchanges, FireEye said in its report published Monday.

North Korea, facing a wide range of United Nations sanctions on exports and trade, has turned to another asset class to try and keep the money flowing: cryptocurrencies.

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It is estimated to bring $1bn a year through illicit activities, including counterfeiting U.S. dollar currency, producing narcotics, and even smuggling gold.

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

By hacking the exchanges, the state is able to move money around and swap it for hard currencies.

"Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have increased in value in the a year ago, 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". 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.

"[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 researchers wrote.

"Cyber criminals may no longer be the only nefarious actors in this space", it concluded.

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