With much of its economic channels under sanctions by the U.N., the untraceable digital currency provides a way for the reclusive dictatorship to bring some cash into its gates.
Hackers took roughly 40 million won ($35,416) worth of bitcoin after Seoul shut down the joint industrial zone at Kaesong, Choi Sang-myong, a senior official at Hauri Inc., was quoted as saying. Hauri is a South Korean cybersecurity firm.
“Cyber-criminals have turned to bitcoin for money as it is very difficult to track them down,” Choi said. “North Korea [has] jumped on the bandwagon of bitcoin extortion since around 2012.”
The country’s hacking network is immense South Korea estimates there are 1,7000 hackers aided by 5,000 trainers, supervisors and others. The hackers usually work abroad, in China, Southeast Asia and Europe and the country has begun to employ ransomware in a bid to obtain bitcoin, according to the New York Times.
Even “large multi-national corporations” have been susceptible to these attacks, he added.
In July last year, North Korea’s main intelligence agency stole the data of more than 10 million customers from Interpark, an online auction and shopping site, and held it for ransom in exchange for $2.7 million in bitcoin.
But North Korea’s team of hackers have turned away from bitcoin for now, Choi told Radio Free Asia, and is looking for other opportunities that could be more lucrative.
The country is allegedly involved in a heist on Bangladesh’s central bank in February last year, of which nearly $81 million was stolen.
Cybersecurity firms like Kaspersky Labs have tied North Korea to the heist, adding that the same group of hackers were likely also responsible for a cybersecurity attack on Sony, before the release of Seth Rogen’s parody film The Interview.