North Korea accused of raising money by stealing bitcoins in hack attacks

From there, the hackers can steal Bitcoin or withdraw the cryptocurrency as South Korean won or U.S. dollars.

FireEye's research noted how escalating economic sanctions against North Korea were accompanied by an upsurge in spear phishing campaigns targeting South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges.

North Korean hackers have previously targeted South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, stealing bitcoin worth $88,000 (at the time) between 2013 and 2015, according to Yonhap News, which cited South Korean cybersecurity firm Hauri.

USA based Security researcher FireEye claim that the rising price of Bitcoin in tandem with the increasing global sanctions imposed upon North Korea have lead the rogue country to seek Bitcoin hack attacks as an alternate, low cost way of helping finance the state.

The UN Security Council has agreed to impose new sanctions on North Korea following its sixth and largest nuclear test, banning textile exports and capping fuel supplies, but such measures may mean North Korea focuses its efforts on generating revenue through cybercrime.

The sanctions imposed against North Korea are to: limit North Korea's oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, stop smuggling efforts, stop interactions with other countries and rules to target the government itself, according to a United States official familiar with negotiations.

"Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have increased in value in the past year, nation states are beginning to take notice", FireEye said."Consequently, it should be no surprise that cryptocurrencies, as an emerging asset class, are becoming a target of interest by a regime that operates in many ways like a criminal enterprise". But FireEye points out that hackers can swap them into other, more anonymous cryptocurrencies - or move them elsewhere and eventually withdraw them in traditional currencies like South Korean won or US dollars. When contacted, the author of the report confirmed he wrote it in 2014, but was unaware that someone was distributing a press release about it this year. The hackers have also been tied by other security firms to last year's attack on Samsung Electronics Co.'s corporate messenger app and, most prominently, the breach of Sony Corp.'s film studio, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation blamed on North Korea. "They've been creative in how they use their cyber-espionage capability".

North Korean hackers have also been suspected of intrusions into global banks in 2016. The FBI is also examining North Korea's link to the theft of $81 million through the New York Fed past year, Bloomberg Markets reported last month. A similar technique was used last month to empty the bitcoin wallets related to WannaCry.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are often held in accounts at online exchanges. "There are variety of things they could do to cash out".

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