North Korea is earning bitcoin and alternative cryptocurrencies by secretly hacking computers

Experts believe the country will carry out more and more attacks like this, in order to raise funds under strict economic sanctions

Aatif Sulleyman
Tuesday 02 January 2018 13:32
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North Korean hackers are quietly seizing control of other people’s computers in order to mine cryptocurrencies.

After the rapid recent rise in value of bitcoin, it’s feared that North Korean actors are going to increasingly target cryptocurrency exchanges and hijack computers in order to raise funds under strict economic sanctions.

A North Korean hacking group called Andariel secretly took over a server at a South Korean company in the summer of 2017 for this very purpose, a hacking analysis team at Financial Security Institute told Bloomberg.

It has since used it to mine around 70 Monero – an alternative to bitcoin – which is worth $371 at the time of publication, according to CoinMarketCap.

According to Financial Security Group, Andariel was able to take over the server without being detected.

Though this Monero haul only adds up to approximately $26,000, experts have traced several similar attacks to North Korea over recent months.

Since May, North Korean actors have targeted at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges with the suspected intent of stealing funds, cybersecurity firm FireEye announced in September.

While how much has been stolen through these attacks isn’t yet clear, it’s believed that North Korea will continue carrying them out in order to fund its nuclear and missile programmes.

“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 international sanctions have constricted the Hermit Kingdom,” added FireEye.

South Korea, meanwhile, has been cracking down on cryptocurrencies.

Its government recently announced it would ban opening anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and introduce legislation giving regulators the power to close virtual coin exchanges if necessary.

Other hacking groups are also seeking to benefit from the rise in interest around cryptocurrencies, and have started infecting unsuspecting victims' computers with cryptojacking software that slows the machines down significantly.

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