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Ahead of the Winter Olympics, North Korea jeopardizes peace with continuing cryptocurrency theft

South Korea’s intelligence services has warned that despite the détente caused by the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics, the rogue nation has continued its cryptocurrency hacking attempts.

While some political commentators have expressed North Korea’s curious overtones in its decision to allow its athletes to compete in the forthcoming Winter Olympics, the rogue nation might be jeopardizing its recent détente by continuing its attempts to hack cryptocurrency exchanges.

In November last year, a (South Korean) Internet & Security Agency report indicated a massive 370% year-on-year malware hacking attacks from 2016 up to November of 2017, and illustrates that North Korea has remained consistent in its efforts to disrupt the operations of cryptocurrency users and firms operating within its southern counterpart.

Now, South Korean intelligence has informed Seoul that hacking attempts have continued – with the North’s infamous Lazarus Group  targeting cryptocurrency exchanges as well as the personal information of consumers stored on such websites.

In a statement to Reuters, Kim Byung-kee, member of South Korea’s parliamentary Intelligence Committee, revealed that “North Korea sent emails that could hack into cryptocurrency exchanges and their customers’ private information. It stole cryptocurrency worth billions of won”.

Lazarus Group

Reports have indicated that a North Korean hacking coalition dubbed ‘Lazarus Group’ (known to US Agencies as ‘Hidden Cobra’) is behind the various attacks that have befallen numerous South Korean exchanges and custodial services.

Previous studies have found that Lazarus Group specifically targeted employees of South Korean exchange Coinlink, as well as a group of South Korean students known as the ‘Friends of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’, who meet to express their interest in foreign affairs.

Levarging various hacking techniques, Lazarus Group made its first large haul (at an estimated $7 million USD) in cryptocurrency from South Korean exchange Bithumb in July of 2017.

Jeopardizing peace?

The North’s continuing assualts on South Korean cryptocurrency platforms – a means to circumvent strenous sanctions imposed by the United Nations – might well dim some of the light that recent peaceful overtures have provided to the rest of the world.

The Winter Olympics are slated to kick off in Pyeongchang County in South Korea on the 9th of February, where Kim Yong-nam – the most senior North Korean official to ever visit South Korea – will arrive in the South as the acting president of North Korea’s parliament.

It remains to be seen what effect the North’s continued cyber-belligerence might have on peaceful proceedings during the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the resolution of peace thereafter. In a recent statement to CNN, South Korean president President Moon Jae-in elaborated on his wish to be the leader “who built a peaceful relationship between North and South”.

Have your say!

What are your thoughts? How could the North’s continued belligerence be resolved? Could there ever be a lasting peace between the two nations insofar as cryptocurrency security is concerned? Let us know your view on Twitter – join the conversation @coininsidercom!

Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA