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North Korea - Cryptocurrencies

According to the KDB report, North Korea has been testing out cryptocurrency mining on a small scale. The report further points out that transactions involving such cryptocurrencies cannot be traced easily, thus making it easy for money laundering. A North Korea technology company known as Chosun Expo is reportedly working on an exchange platform for Bitcoin (BTC).

The report from the South Korean-based bank highlights the concerns about the use of cryptocurrencies to facilitate illegal activities such as money laundering, trading weapons and even funding terrorism. These are just some of the concerns that have plagued the cryptocurrency market as digital currencies struggle to gain traction.

“North Korea seems interested in the defining characteristics of cryptocurrencies, including anonymity, difficulties of tracing money and capability,” the report stated.

North Korea’s involvement with cryptocurrencies is not surprising considering that it has poor relationships with neighboring countries and its economy is not doing well. It has particularly lost ties with other countries because of its nuclear missile programs. Cryptocurrencies can thus be used to acquire vital resources that the country needs. KDB claims in its report that North Korea’s efforts of mining Bitcoin between May and June 2017 were futile.

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Who in North Korea is pursuing cryptocurrencies?

Such efforts were most likely carried out by the country’s government since regular civilians do not have access to proper internet services and expensive mining equipment. Some of the individuals who have defected from North Korea revealed in interviews that people don’t have knowledge about cryptocurrencies in the country.

Kim Jong Un has enforced strict rules that prevent North Koreans from accessing the outside world and so it is highly unlikely that random citizens have been involved in cryptocurrency mining. Such interests are therefore more likely to involve people with ties to the Korean government. It was most likely the North Korean hacker group known as Lazarus which tested out cryptocurrency mining. The hacker group has also been other crypto-related matters including a cryptocurrency exchange attack in Asia using the AppleJeus Mac malware. Lazarus became popular in 2014 after hacking Sony Pictures for a film called The Interview, which had a storyline focused on the assassination of Kim Jong Un.

Lazarus is the most likely firm to be involved in matters regarding cryptocurrencies in North Korea but they most likely abandoned that mission because it is resource-intensive. However, their pursuits with cryptocurrencies will most likely continue given that it presents an alternative way of procuring goods and services especially since the local currency is likely losing its value.

It is no surprise that groups such as Lazarus are focusing their efforts on cryptocurrency mining malware because they are highly lucrative. It is therefore likely that North Korea will continue to show interest in cryptocurrencies. It is also not clear whether Lazarus is responsible for some of the cryptocurrency exchange hacks in South Korea.

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