By Kim So-hyun
The Korea Herald
Asia News Network
The North Korean government, financially strapped under the strongest-ever international sanctions, is eyeing bitcoin exchanges to gain financial profit, Sky News said on Sunday citing security researchers.
"Recently, we’ve discovered that some of the ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’ groups are trying to hack financial institutions like banks and bitcoin exchanges to gain financial profit," Ashley Shen, an independent security researcher, was quoted as saying by Sky News.
The cyberattacks have been unsuccessful so far, according to Shen, but she believes they will continue because bitcoin’s increasing value makes it a good investment.
Shen said she and other researchers have been tracking Lazarus, Bluenoroff and Andariel -- hacking groups suspected of being backed by North Korea -- and attacks done on banks in Europe and South Korea, an ATM company and bitcoin exchange.
They found that cyberattacks, which were usually conducted to gain confidential data and intelligence, have been recently shifting toward gaining digital currency.
"I assume they will do more bitcoin attacks and of course they will keep targeting banks because that’s what they did before," Shen said, according to Sky News.
"One of the reasons why bitcoin is being attacked is because the price keeps increasing, and we think it’s reasonable for hackers. Digital currency might be easier to gain than physical currency."
One of Shen’s co-researchers working for a South Korean bank told Sky News, asking not to be named, that just a few years ago, North Korean hackers initiated attacks to paralyze society, but now they were hacking for money.
Security firm FireEye said in report in September that hackers linked to North Korea have stolen bitcoins from at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May 2017.
"Now, we may be witnessing a second wave of this campaign: state-sponsored actors seeking to steal bitcoin and other virtual currencies as a means of evading sanctions and obtaining hard currencies to fund the regime," the report said.
The Korea Internet & Security Agency also forecast an increase of cyberattacks from North Korea targeting cryptocurrency exchanges in its outlook on next year’s cyberattacks released last week.
One bitcoin, which was worth less than $1,000 at the beginning of this year, hit above $17,000 last week.