Hackers in North Korea reportedly stole large amounts of bitcoins between 2013 and 2015. South Korea was one of the targets, but not the only one.
Bitcoins Stolen from 2013-2015
Radio Free Asia (RFA) is a private, nonprofit international broadcasting corporation based in the US. The publication reported on Wednesday that North Korean hackers stole more than 100 million won worth of bitcoin, approximately US$88,000, each month from 2013 to 2015.
Choi Sang-Myong is a senior official at South Korea’s cybersecurity firm Hauri Inc. He told the publication, as translated by South Korea’s largest news agency Yonhap, that:
Cyber criminals have turned to bitcoin for money as it is very difficult to track them down. Since tracking down the culprits is very difficult, North Korea had jumped on the bandwagon of bitcoin extortion since around 2012.
First Target: South Korea
The relations between North and South Korea became extremely strained in 2013, during the Korean Crisis, when North Korea blocked access to the Kaesong Industrial Region for all South Korean citizens. Both countries agreed to reopen the industrial park four months later, but tensions stayed on edge in the meantime.
According to Choi, the bitcoin thefts targeting South Korea began during the two weeks that followed the shutdown of the Kaesong industrial park that year. North Korean hackers soon stole about 40 million won worth of bitcoin from South Korea at the time, Choi revealed, but noted that the country has not been the only target. He added:
After that, they were confirmed to have secured more than 100 million won in bitcoin every month.
While Choi confirmed North Korea’s bitcoin theft activities up to 2015, he speculated that the hackers involved may have moved onto other more profitable fields thereafter.
Bitcoiners in North Korea
Besides the hackers, there have not been many reports of Bitcoin users in North Korea, due to their totalitarian internet policy that limits access to a handful of elites and scientists.
However, in January 2014, the first claimed Bitcoin transaction was sent from North Korea, for the amount of 0.1037 btc to Sean’s Outpost, a homeless shelter in Pensacola, Florida. Using the discontinued Changetip app, Reddit user Bitcoindprk proved that he was on a tour in North Korea and sent $100 at the time to the famous Bitcoiner’s charity, run by Jason King. In doing so, the nameless Redditor demonstrated that Bitcoin truly has no borders.
Admitting that it would be a few years until the locals would even get access to the internet, he also claimed that he had been handing out paper wallets “with a few mbtc each to the Korean guides” who accompanied him on the tour.
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Images courtesy of Shutterstock and Sean’s Outpost
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