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North Korean hackers are believed to be illegally accessing computers to acquire cryptocurrencies as Pyongyang increases its efforts in search of money under stricter global sanctions.

Kwak Kyoung-ju, who leads the Financial Security Institute’s (FSI) hacking analysis team in South Korea, stated on Tuesday that a group of hackers called Andariel took control of a server in a South Korean company last year, taking about 70 Monero coins worth around $25,000 in December.

Kwak added that Andariel was able to hack the server unnoticed by its operator and that it was targeting anything that produces cash these days.

Other computers were probably have been hacked to extract cryptocurrencies. The hackers seemed to have targeted Monero as it was more focus on privacy, and was easier to hide and launder than bitcoin.

Monero also mixes several transactions, making it more difficult to identify where the money came from, and it utilizes dual-key stealth addresses that give recipients complete anonymity.

South Korean investigators deemed North Korea as a potential suspect. An American cybersecurity company stated in September that attacks by the country’s hackers on cryptocurrency exchanges in Seoul has also grown.  

The news had weakened bitcoin earlier, but the world’s most recognized cryptocurrency has gained 0.9 percent to $13,646, after ending 2017 on a more positive note. Its rival ethereum was also higher by 12.4 percent to $845.

North Korea Relying on Cryptocurrencies for Funds

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Digital currencies have become a source of funds for the current North Korean administration. It has been expanding its hunt for cash overseas, ever since its standard source of income has been put in a vice-like grip by sanctions that has cut oil supplies and barred other trade transactions.

Cryptocurrencies are obtainable by solving a complex mathematical problem, which would need high-powered computers that only companies can pay for. Still, not every corporation pays a great deal to protect their computers from hackers.

Yapian, which is also a South Korean crypto exchange firm, has filed for bankruptcy in December after a hacking incident in April resulted in a 17 percent loss of its digital currency.

South Korea’s internet and security agency at that time blamed the data breach on cyberspies working for North Korea, but it the country has denied any involvement in cyber crimes.

The US has also held North Korea responsible for releasing the so-called WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, when hackers had demanded bitcoin in exchange for unlocking files they had secured with malware.

Thousands of computers were affected by the cyberattack, incapacitating hospitals, banks, and other companies across the globe.  

Researchers tackling the issue stated that most data breaches by North Korean hackers last year were done for financial purposes, rather than government secrets.

However, their objective might undergo change this year, as the United Nations is strengthening its control to cut the flow of funds used by North Korea’s administration to finance its nuclear weaponries development.

Korea Internet Security Center’s chief analyst Lee Dong-geun said that North Korean pressures indicate harm on the government and national security, but now they are looming largely over the private sector, adding that they are mainly after information for financial ends.

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