North Korean Crypto Efforts Are Bid to Evade Sanctions

North Korea is looking at crypto hacking and crypto development as ways to beat sanctions levied from the United States, Japan and Europe last September.

The sanctions were meant to deter North Korea from testing more missiles. North Korea began mining for bitcoin last May, according to intelligence reports.

That means the value of its cache rose from $2,337 to its current value of $10,765, assuming the North Korean government didn’t sell off at its peak two weeks ago.

The report also shows that North Korea’s elites are not nearly as isolated as portrayed by Western governments and media and that their Internet use is very similar to Americans, even if the circle of people with access is only a few dozen.

Although there are 4 million mobile phones in North Korea, only a handful allow Internet access. A small number of North Koreans, perhaps several thousand mostly professors, graduate students, and scientists, are allowed access to North Korea’s domestic Internet.

Expats and tourists are allowed full Internet access and often post surprising pictures of life within North Korea.

Some other surprising results of that intelligence is that North Korea’s Internet activity is not a predictor of a military action or missile launch and that most of its cyber operations including Bitcoin mining take place abroad.

The nations where the isolated country mines coins include India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nepal, Kenya, Mozambique, and Indonesia. It’s also possible they are operating with Chinese knowledge in China.

The last fact allows the United States and allies to interdict North Korea’s mining and hacking. No one knows how extensive either activity is or where its located, in spite of the fact that less than 1% of this activity is correctly encrypted.

North Korea began Bitcoin Mining on May 17, experts believe. Before that day, there had been virtually no activity to Bitcoin-related sites or nodes or utilizing Bitcoin-specific ports or protocols.

Kidnapped developers

On May 17 such activity increased exponentially, from nothing to hundreds per day. The timing of this mining is important because it began very soon after the May WannaCry ransomware attacks, which the NSA attributed to North Korea’s intelligence service, the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), as an attempt to raise funds for the Kim regime.

A Korea Herald report says that North Korea used fraud and malware in mid-2017 to try hacking four bitcoin exchanges in South Korea, Tonhaps News Agency reported in September.

North Korean hackers reportedly stole $6.99 million worth of bitcoin in an attack on one computer in the south. South Korean authorities are still investigating the February incident while vowing to tighten bitcoin regulation.

The FireEye Internet security firm documented six of North Korean cryptocurrency hacking from April to July. The culprits then went after three South Korean bitcoin firms, it says.

FireEye likens those moves to North Korean “cybercrime” against foreign banks and the global financial system.

There have even been reports of North Korea developing its own blockchain using Indian and Chinese developers and possibly even kidnapping Japanese and South Korean developers to further its crypto efforts, a practice long associated with the regime.