Despite some cracks on the icy surface of inter-Korean relations, caused by the Olympic spirit, tensions on the silent crypto front in Korea remain high. South Korean intelligence has informed lawmakers in Seoul that the North keeps trying to hack cryptocurrency exchanges south of the DMZ. Cryptos worth billions of won have been stolen by DPRK hackers last year, the secret service says.
All is Not Quiet on The Crypto Front
North Korea is continuously trying to hack South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, the National Intelligence Service told deputies on Monday. The spy agency is doing its best to prevent further hacking, after DPRK hackers allegedly stole digital coins worth billions of Korean won last year.
“North Korea sent emails that could hack into cryptocurrency exchanges and their customers’ private information. It stole cryptocurrency worth billions of won”, said Kim Byung-kee, member of South Korea’s parliamentary Intelligence Committee, quoted by Reuters. The deputy did not reveal details about the targeted platforms.
In December, the South Korean intelligence agency announced it had evidence of North Korean involvement in the attack on Bithumb. Personal data of more than 30,000 users of the crypto exchange had been stolen in the hack. Korean authorities fined its operator for leaking private information, as news.Bitcoin.com reported. Bithumb is said to be the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume.
Hackers from the notorious Lazarus Group were implicated in the 2017 attacks on South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, Korean media reported in mid-January. They are believed to be linked to the DPRK regime. The internet company Recorded Future claimed in a report that North Korean government actors (including Lazarus Group) continued to target South Korean exchanges and their users in late 2017. The attacks went on until Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s “peaceful resolution” speech, after which the dialogue with the South was reestablished, Sputnik reports. Beside exchanges and crypto users, the hackers also targeted South Korean students with interests in foreign relations.
Hacking May Overshadow “United Korea” Olympiad
With rare exceptions, relations between North and South have been tense for the most part of the decade-long conflict on the divided Korean Peninsula. The two Korean states are technically at war, as only an armistice, not a peace treaty, has been signed to maintain the peace. The 1953 ceasefire agreement silenced guns but did not end hostilities on the silent front. Nuclear tests, rocket launches, kidnappings and occasional artillery shelling have reminded everybody that the war is not over. In the digital age, the isolated communist North has allegedly employed cyber warfare tactics and techniques that have reached the world of cryptos like bitcoin, where South Korea is a major player.
Periods of less tension have created conditions for some positive developments – families have been united, joint projects like the Kaesong Industrial Zone have been realized. The Winter Olympic Games, to be held this February in Pyeongchang (South Korea), opened another window of opportunity. The two Korean states agreed to march together during the opening ceremony under the Korean Unification Flag. A Unified Korea women’s ice hockey team will compete in the games.
The new information about ongoing hacking attacks on South Korean crypto exchanges, reportedly sponsored by the North, comes days before the official start of Pyeongchang 2018 (9 – 25 February). It coincides with reports that North Korea’s de jure head of state will arrive in Pyeongchang this week. 90-year-old Kim Yong-nam, who will be the most senior North Korean official to ever visit South Korea, is the acting president of DPRK’s parliament.
An unnamed official from the South Korean presidential administration, quoted by BBC, said that Kim’s visit reflected the North’s willingness to improve inter-Korean relations, and demonstrated sincerity. Born in a family of North Korean refugees, South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently told CNN he wanted to be the leader “who built a peaceful relationship between North and South”.
Do you think reports of continuing North Korean attacks on South Korean crypto exchanges will cast shadow over “United Korea” Olympics? Tell us in the comments section below.
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Author: Lubomir Tassev