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North Korea Stole Billions on Won in Cryptocurrency, Says South Korea

Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:04 PM
Samburaj Das
Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:04 PM

South Korean intelligence officials have accused state-sponsored North Korean hackers have stolen cryptocurrency worth billions of won.

In a parliamentary briefing on Monday, South Korea’s intelligence agency told government officials and lawmakers that long-standing reports of multiple thefts of domestic cryptocurrency exchanges by North Korea has run into the billions of won, a scale of tens of millions of dollars, in 2017.

Without revealing the names of the hacked exchanges, Kim Byung-kee, a member of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee, told lawmakers in a statement reported by Reuters :

“North Korea sent emails that could hack into cryptocurrency exchanges and their customers’ private information and stole (cryptocurrency) worth billions of won.”

Citing sources in Parliament, Korean publication Kyodo News  is reporting that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) still believes that North Korea is continually trying to hack into South Korean exchanges to steal cryptocurrencies.

Notably, the news report also reveals an ongoing investigation by the NIS to check whether North Korea was involved in the theft of 58 billion yen ($534 million) in cryptocurrency from Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck last month.

As CCN.com reported last year, major South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb was the target of a hack which resulted in the loss of personal data of an estimated 31,000 users and hundreds of millions of won in losses from customer accounts. Now, the NIS has laid claim to have gathered enough evidence to suggest that North Korea was involved in the hack and subsequent theft that began with phishing emails targeting employees at the exchange.

North Korea has been continually accused of cryptocurrency theft from South Korea and beyond in recent years, raising questions of a possible stockpiling of cryptocurrency by Kim Jong-Un’s regime. According to some estimates – there’s no way to be sure – North Korea has an army of some 1,700 state-sponsored hackers further aided by a supporting staff of 5,000 individuals.

In early 2017, a South Korean cybersecurity firm claimed North Korean hackers stole bitcoin worth 100 million won, approx. USD $90,000, every month from 2013-2015 to increase reserves of its hard (safe haven currency) as a means to nullify the effect of global economic sanctions.

Frequent reports have pointed to South Korean exchanges as common targets, as a detailed report by cybersecurity firm FireEye firmly pointed the finger at North Korean hackers stealing bitcoin to fund Pyongyang’s elite and Kim Jong UN’s regime.

In December, South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Youbit filed for bankruptcy following the theft of 17% of its bitcoin reserves from its hot wallet. North Korean hackers are seen as the prime suspects behind the hack.

South Korea’s National Police Agency (NPA) published its own findings from an investigation looking into several cybersecurity incidents falling upon domestic exchanges. In it, the police confirmed North Korean hackers targeted a total of 25 employees across 4 domestic exchanges with at least 10 sperate phishing attacks.

Featured image from Shutterstock.