North Korean hackers may have netted the regime over $200 million worth of cryptocurrency transactions last year. The money could have been used to dilute the impact of international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missiles program
The regime’s potentially huge cryptocurrency revenue was revealed by Priscilla Moriuchi, a former NSA officer, during an interview with Radio Free Asia. Per the former US government employee, North Korea could have made an estimated 11,000 bitcoins through a cyber army.
If the regime sold the cryptocurrency during its mid-December peak of over $19,340, it could have made over $200 million. If, however, it failed to do so then, the value of its coins plummeted to about $77 million over one month later.
If North Korea is still holding on to its funds, they’re currently worth $128.5 million as one bitcoin is currently trading at $11,680, according to data from CryptoCompare. Per Moriuchi, who now works at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, the funds were acquired through mining or hacking.
Speaking to Vox.com, she said:
“I would bet that these coins are being turned into something – currency or physical goods – that are supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme.”
North Korea has in the past been blamed for various cybercrimes. In December, the US government claimed the reclusive state was behind May’s WannaCry ransomware attack, that affected over 230,000 computers in 150 countries, but seemed to rake in little over $100,000
Moreover, researchers at FireEye linked North Korean hackers to six cyber attacks against South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges. One of these attacks forced Youbit to shut down after filing for bankruptcy.
According to The Telegraph, there’s evidence that suggests North Korean hacker cells have set up operational hubs in foreign locations. While the regime denies all hacking accusations, cybersecurity experts and defectors reportedly claim promising students are handpicked to join Bureau 121, North Korea’s cyberwarfare agency.
North Korea Already “Ensconsed” In Cryptocurrencies
As The Telegraph notes, terrorist financing and money laundering expert Loretta Napoleoni argued that Pyongyang is already “ensconsed” in cryptocurrencies as it is most likely using them to launder money.
In a book, she cites cybersecurity experts to claim cryptocurrencies make it “easier to trade in weapons, drugs, and other illicit goods.” Reportedly, North Korea even used cryptocurrencies to sell arms and buy oil from countries like Libya and Iran.
Taking all of this into account, Moriuchi believes the international community should tighten regulations being applied to cryptocurrency exchanges. She stated
“That helps create a paper trail we can use to identify North Korean accounts and how North Korea is moving these currencies.”