Cyber security researchers attribute string of recent cyberattacks on virtual currency exchanges on North Korea-backed hackers

With much of its exports to China being blocked by U.N sanction, an impoverished and increasingly cornered North Korea has taken the cyber route to enriching itself. With the recent surge in the price of bitcoins, cyber security experts opine the net worth of its stolen tokens amount to $82 million. With more international sanctions in the pipeline, experts and analysts expect North-Korean backed hackers to conduct more cyber attacks in the coming months.

According to cyber security researchers, recent cyber attacks which have been attributed to North Korean hackers has got the dictatorial regime millions of dollars in virtual currencies like bitcoin. With international sanctions clamping down on trade with the impoverished regime, experts expect more attacks as North Korea seeks new sources of cash.

The explosive growth in the value of cryptocurrencies currencies, including the bitcoin, has made them an attractive target for North Korea-backed hackers.

According to researchers from South Korea, home of the world’s busiest virtual currency exchanges which accounts for nearly 15% to 25% of the world’s bitcoin trading volume, cyber attacks on exchanges such as Youbit, Bithumb and Coinis have the digital fingerprints of hackers from North Korea.

The researchers’ findings have not been independently verified.

North Korea has rejected accusations that it has been involved in hacking.

According to a spokesman from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles North Korean affairs, the government is considering “countermeasures”, including imposing more sanctions, over recent cyber attacks.

Representatives of Bithumb and Coinis declined to comment.

On Tuesday, Youbit filed for bankruptcy over another cyber attack that cost it 17% of its assets.

As per a cyber security researcher who spoke on the condition of anonymity since the matter is under investigation, there are similarities between Youbit’s latest hack and an earlier one which has been linked to North Korea.

As per another cyber security researcher who worked with Youbit after it suffered a cyber attack in April, the firm has since experienced a consistent string of hacking attacks that used malicious code that was previously used by North Korea.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo had earlier reported, the country’s intelligence service had identified cryptocurrencies worth nearly $7 million (7.6 billion won) of being stolen in those previous attacks on multiple exchanges.

As per Moonbeom Park, a cyber security researcher at Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA), that amount could now be worth nearly $82 million (90 billion Korean won).

The malicious codes used in the attacks over this summer was “virtually identical” to previous attacks connected to North Korea, said Park.

As per Cristiana Brafman Kittner, principal analyst at the cybersecurity firm FireEye, while she could not presently confirm whether North Korea had in fact stolen any virtual currencies she however said hackers linked to it had targeted “multiple exchanges” over the past six to nine months.

“We believe that some of the criminal activity we are observing originating from North Korea is a result of the regime looking for alternative sources of revenue,” said Kittner. “North Korean cyber threat actors present an immediate risk to the financial services sector worldwide.”


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