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.

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.

North Korean hackers have mounted attacks on at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May, security researcher FireEye said in a report Monday.

The attacks include an apparently successful one when four wallets at Seoul-based exchange Yapizon were compromised. Local news reports said that in May Yapizon had more than 3,800 bitcoins worth USD 15 million stolen — although FireEye said there were no clear indications of North Korean involvement in that case.

Since the following month in May, FireEye researchers revealed they observed North Korean hackers target at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges to steal funds. They did so with spear-phishing campaigns, researchers added, that targeted personal email accounts of employees at digital currency exchanges. 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 last year.

Researchers point to multiple attacks, including one incident in April where South Korean bitcoin exchange Yapizon lost over $5 million in user funds and bitcoin due to a wallet compromise. Four days later, FireEye researchers’ timeline shows the United States and the wider international community working toward increased economic sanctions.

Tracking down the culprit of a cyberattack is generally difficult, and North Korea has generally denied any part in global cyberattacks, despite being linked to the devastating WannaCry ransomware attack in May.

It should be no surprise that North Korea is getting increasingly interested in bitcoin as sanctions limit its already-tight cash reserves even further—the latest round of United Nations sanctions, for example, bans textile exports from the country. After acquiring bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, North Korea could then launder them on exchanges and get hard cash in return, as its main avenues for making money get cut off one by one.

SHARE