Published: Tue, September 12, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

North Korea hackers 'suspected of stealing bitcoins'

North Korea hackers 'suspected of stealing bitcoins'

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 Korean hackers have previously targeted South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, stealing bitcoin worth $88,000 (at the time) between 2013 and 2015, according to Yonhap News, which cited South Korean cybersecurity firm Hauri.

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. Four days later, FireEye researchers' timeline shows the United States and the wider worldwide community working toward increased economic sanctions.

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.

At least one virtual currency exchange was successfully compromised in late May.

Japan PM Shinzo Abe warns North Korea against continuing nuclear program
The time has come to exhaust all of our diplomatic means before it's too late. "It's impossible to scare them", said Putin. He has asked the United Nations to consider tough new sanctions after North Korea's latest nuclear test.

Early June - More suspected North Korean activity targeting unknown victims, believed to be cryptocurrency service providers in South Korea.

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

While North Korean hackers have been conducting cyberattacks overseas for years, especially against South Korea (paywall), a new report from security firm FireEye notes that the country has incorporated a new element into its online warfare-bitcoin.

And North Korea is already involved with other types of illicit currency smuggling, like counterfeiting foreign currency and gold smuggling.

North Korean hackers have been accused of the largest cyber heists the world has ever seen - and, as sanctions on the secretive state start to bite, Pyonyang's premiere hacking group has started stealing Bitcoin, too.

U.S. waters down North Korea sanctions draft before United Nations vote
It followed up with a sixth nuclear test on September 3, its largest to date, which it said was a miniaturised hydrogen bomb. The initial draft proposed he be subjected to a travel ban and asset freeze along with four other North Korea officials.

If hackers manage to compromise an exchange - as opposed to a single wallet - they can move cryptocurrencies around, then swap them for hard currencies like South Korean won or USA dollars, the FireEye researchers wrote.

With fresh United Nations sanctions and bitcoin's skyrocketing value, "the potential windfall from these attacks has risen accordingly", Boland said.

"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", said Mr McNamara.

"While at present North Korea is somewhat distinctive in both their willingness to engage in financial crime and their possession of cyber espionage capabilities, the uniqueness of this combination will likely not last long-term as rising cyber powers may see similar potential", FireEye said. Cyber criminals may no longer be the only nefarious actors in this space.

Jose now a major hurricane
A tropical storm warning is in effect from north of Cabo Rojo to Rio Panuco and from south of Laguna Verde to Puerto Veracruz . Jose has winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kph) and is quickly strengthening , but poses no immediate threat to land.

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