North Korea May Have Netted $200 Million in Bitcoin Transactions, Says Former NSA Officer

Francisco Memoria
  • A former NSA officer claims North Korea could have made 11,000 BTC last year using a cyber army
  • The regime has been accused of being responsible for the WannaCry ransomware campaign, and for taking down South Korean exchange Youbit
  • The country denies all hacking accusations.

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.”

Priscilla Moriuchi

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.”

Priscilla Moriuchi

Weekly Newsletter

Bitcoin (BTC) Surges Nearly 6% in 12 Hours to Move Past $6,700

Avi Rosten

The price of bitcoin (BTC) has surged nearly 6% in under 12 hours - climbing to over $6,700 - as cryptocurrency markets across the board have shown signs of recovery.

minute_CryptoCompare_Index_BTC_USD_289_51537521048448.pngSource: CryptoCompare

Unclear What’s Behind Surge

The biggest BTC news for the last few weeks came last night as the US SEC announced it was once again postponing its decision on the highly-anticipated VanEck-SolidX Bitcoin ETF until December 29th.

This news however is likely unrelated to the recent surge. The last time the SEC made a similar postponement announcement on August 8th – bitcoin dropped over 7% in price - although it is possible that investors expecting an outright “no” were somewhat encouraged.

Changpeng Zhao: Stablecoins and $6k Support Level Are Positive Signs

While such price movements are most probably attributable to short-term trading activity, taking a broader view on the state of the market yesterday – Binance CEO Chanpeng Zhao offered some reflections on the year as a whole while talking to CryptoGlobe at Consensus Singapore.

We asked him about the proliferation of stablecoins - such as Gemini’s recently launched GUSD – a development Zhao believes is very positive:

Stablecoins are huge, I think people don't understand the impact of a regulated stablecoin... If people understood what the impacts are bitcoin price would be going up now because of all the stablecoins. They are a very good channel for fiat money to come in and spread around the crypto space. I think it’s a very, very positive thing

Moreover, Zhao was keen to look at the general support level for BTC this year:

If you look at the chart, we have seen a very strong support level at $6,000 in 2018, whereas in 2014 it was $200. I never trade myself, I buy and hold. Any minute the bull market will return, historically October to December are the good months... But I don't make predictions we just react to markets

 

day_CryptoCompare_Index_BTC_USD_366_11537524721284.pngSource: CryptoCompare