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

Could President Trump Ban Bitcoin? Experts Weigh In

  • Experts weigh in on the possibility of President Trump banning bitcoin.
  • Increasing concern over libra and large platform digital currencies is driving political agenda. 

Following last week’s attack on bitcoin and Facebook’s libra, experts have voiced their opinion on whether US President Donald Trump could realistically impose a ban on cryptocurrency. 

Not a Fan of Bitcoin

On July 11, President Donald Trump published a series of tweets attacking bitcoin and digital currencies, while championing the dollar. 

President Trump’s comments come in the midst of growing concern over Facebook’s libra, as political regulators around the world scramble to enact policies to deal with the rise of digital currencies. 

Members of the crypto community have questioned the impact of the US President taking an unfavorable stance towards bitcoin. Some crypto pundits predicted the tweets would be good for the price of BTC and ultimately increase exposure to cryptoassets. However, others worry that political influence may lead to a crackdown on cryptocurrency usage. 

Scenarios for Banning Crypto

Alex Kruger, economist and market analyst, published a tweet thread examining the legality and possibility of President Trump banning bitcoin. 

According to Kruger, It would be almost impossible for the US government to outlaw bitcoin as a technological instrument. Aside from the Herculean task of eradicating a decentralized, digital technology, bitcoin is code, which is protected under the first amendment.

However, that same protection is not extended to third-party operators, including cryptocurrency exchanges. 

Kruger quoted Abra CEO and Founder BIll Barhydt, who explained in a Forbes article how the government could target fiat onramps to exchanges, 

“You can’t prevent people from holding ones and zeroes on a device in their pocket. That ship has sailed. We already know that. The question is: What can they do at the edge of the network -- the onramps and offramps, the places where they exert control over the banking system, the exchanges, [and the] stablecoins.”

The US government could prevent retail investors from having access to crypto-assets through exchanges and prevent banks from allowing transfer of funds. Users would still be able to buy crypto through alternative channels, but the current ease of investing would be severely hampered. 

Unlikely, But Not Impossible

President Trump could also issue an executive order banning citizens from dealing in bitcoin, similar to the one he issued against the Petro. While there is a precedent for this route, Kruger claims the order could be easily overturned by Congress, 

Ultimately, Kruger believes that it is unlikley the President or Congress would move to ban bitcoin, and it would be difficult to enact fool-proof policy. However, it's worth considering the political landscape as regulatory concerns mount over Facebook's libra.

Just last week, a copy of a bill reportedly drafted by the House Financial Services Committee surfaced online, under the title "Keep Big Tech Out of Finance." The bill would put an end to Facebook and other large platforms from issuing digital currencies without incurring a severe penalty.

The same could be extended to bitcoin in the event the government finds crypto-assets no longer tolerable for the general public.