North Korea Turns to Cryptocurrency


The government of North Korea has, over the last few years, been largely cut off from the global economy due to their civil rights abuses, intercontinental ballistic missile launches, and nuclear weapons development. To attempt to feed their starving population and maintain control, they’ve now turned to hacking cryptocurrency.

The North Korean government is no stranger to state-sponsored hacking and is well known through DDos attacks on U.S. as well as South Korean websites. The North Korean regime is also suspected of being responsible for the infamous 2014 Sony hack.

2017 saw the shift in North Korean tactics from harassment and data theft, to financial cybercrimes. According to a report, the Lazarus Group, one of North Korea’s most notorious state-sponsored hacking collectives, has begun hacking South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges through phishing and spearphishing attacks on both individual users and employees of the exchanges. Targeted exchanges included Youbit and Bithumb.

In addition to email phishing, North Korea is assumed to have been behind 2017’s WannaCry attacks. WannaCry was a traditional ransomware attack, but instead of requesting wired money in exchange for unlocking the affected computers, the hackers requested cryptocurrency. While mostly unsuccessful, the series of attacks were able to garner $120,000 in Bitcoin for the beleaguered regime.

North Korea has also began mining cryptocurrency through a web-based Monero mining software installed on hacked servers. This practice was mainly carried out by two other North Korean hacking groups called Bluenorroff and Andariel.

The shift in tactics of using cryptocurrency to further North Korean aims brings into focus the South Korean government’s recent efforts to stifle the growth of crypto. Given the nature of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, it remains to be seen how effective this and other efforts by the civilized world will have on this new trend.

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