North Korea accused of stealing thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency

2 Jan 2018

Pyongyang, North Korea. Image: Truba7113/Shutterstock

North Korean hackers are alleged to have breached a South Korean server to steal cryptocurrency last year.

South Korea is alleging that a group of hackers based in North Korea, known as Andariel, stole around 70 Monero coins last summer, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The total amount stolen is valued at approximately $25,000, at the time of writing.

South Korean government hacking analyst Kwak Kyoung-ju told Bloomberg that Andariel is “going after anything that generates cash these days”.

Monero favoured by hackers

Kwak added that the hackers appear to favour Monero as the cryptocurrency has more of a focus on privacy, making it easier to launder and conceal than counterparts such as the ubiquitous bitcoin.

Monero uses a network of miners to verify its trades, like bitcoin, but it mixes multiple transactions, and recipients are more difficult to identify.

Kwak also believes that the hackers may have seized other machines to mine cryptocurrencies.

The bulk of cyberattacks from North Korean hackers of late have focused on monetary gain as opposed to classified state information, Reuters said.

Who are Andariel targeting?

A report from the South Korean government’s Financial Security Institute issued in July 2017 said of Andariel: “[It] focuses on attacking South Korean businesses and government agencies using methods tailored for the country.”

The report also found that Andariel had attempted to steal information from bank cards by hacking into ATMs, as well as creating malware to hack into online gambling sites.

The Andariel subgroup is said to have been active since at least May of 2016.

The financial nature of the attacks is believed to be due to the tightening grip of strict international sanctions imposed on North Korea to curtail its development of nuclear weapons.

Luke McNamara of FireEye said that cryptocurrency exchanges present an “attractive target” to hackers.

The accusation against North Korea comes just a few short weeks after the US government officially blamed the country for the devastating WannaCry cyberattack, which swept the globe in the first half of 2017.

North Korea is also said to be responsible for the Lazarus hacking group, an infamous collective that carried out the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures.

The state has flatly denied any involvement in said cyberattacks.

Pyongyang, North Korea. Image: Truba7113/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects