North Korean Hackers steal Bitcoins to support authoritarian regime

Hackers from North Korea are attempting to steal Bitcoins in support of Kim Jong Un’s regime, according to FireEye, a top cybersecurity firm.

North Korea became interested in Bitcoin and other sorts of digital money known as altcoins, as the U.S. is aiming to pursue international sanctions in order to further isolate the country, FireEye says.

“Sanctions against North Korea are fueling cybercrimes in the country”, said Bruce Boland, chief technology officer with FireEye. The main purpose of cyber attacks is obtaining hard currency that will be used to fund the regime.

Latest cybercrime activity isn’t the only example of illicit ways North Korea is gathering money to survive another wave of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

According to FireEye, the cybersecurity firm has identified three hacker attacks against South Korea-based Bitcoin exchange platforms. They took place between May and July 2017. Each one of the three attacks was linked to North Korean hackers. The spike in criminal activity happened soon after the U.S. declared its intention to ratchet up international sanctions against North Korea. At press time, Bitcoin is trading at $3,997.65, up from less than $1,000 at the beginning of this year. Considering the skyrocketing value of the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, North Korea is expecting windfall earnings from their cybercrime activity.

FireEye believes that the hackers behind the attacks belong to North Korean group TEMP.Hermit. This isn’t the first time the group is being linked to high-profile cybercrimes, including the attack against Sony Pictures in 2014.

North Korean hackers are also suspected to be involved in the series of hacker attacks on global banks last year. Bangladesh’s central bank suffered the most from the cyberheist as it lost tens of millions of dollars to the criminals.

The North Korean authorities have repeatedly denied their involvement in any kind of international cyber crime activities.

Cybersecurity experts and intelligence agencies managed to tie the biggest cyber attack in history to North Korean hackers. The virus known as WannaCry affected over 100 countries all over the world and demanded ransom in Bitcoins, yielding over $140,000.

Bitcoin and other digital currencies are often held in online wallets at exchange platforms. FireEye informs Bitcoin holders that their cryptocurrency can potentially be swapped into other, more anonymous altcoins, or transferred elsewhere and withdrawn in hard currencies like South Korean won or U.S. dollars.

North Korean hackers have been known to target South Korean exchange platforms in the past. Between 2013 and 2015, they have stolen $88,000 worth of Bitcoins, according to South Korean cybersecurity firm Hauri.

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