Priscilla Moriuchi, a former US National Security Agency officer, recently accused the North Korean regime of using cryptocurrencies to fund its nuclear program. According to Ms Moriuchi, who now works for cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, an estimated 11,000 Bitcoins are supposed to have been accumulated by the North Korean regime in 2017. The cybersecurity expert further stated that if North Korea sold them when their price peaked in last December, the regime could have netted around $210 million.
Moreover, in an interview with Radio Free Asia, Moriuchi revealed that the regime is believed to have gathered the said number of Bitcoins through mining or hacking. She points out that profits in digital cryptocurrency transactions last year may have been used as a way to circumvent the international sanctions program. She firmly believes North Korea, which is struggling under the pressure of harsh international sanctions, is using cryptocurrency markets to covertly channel funds to its nuclear program.
Priscilla Moriuchi told Vox.com:
“I would bet that these coins are being turned into something – currency or physical goods – that are supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme.”
According to Telegraph, another cybersecurity expert, Jeremy Samide, noted that “cryptocurrencies make it easier to trade in weapons, drugs and other illicit goods. North Korea stands accused of using digital money to sell arms and buy oil from Iran and Libya.”
Apart from this, the North Korean regime has already been accused of a few of the most recent cyber-attacks. Last December, the US Department of Defense confirmed that the so-called rogue country was behind the WannaCry ransomware attack, which was responsible for affecting more than 230,000 machines around 150 countries.
In the same month, North Korean hackers targeted a South Korean cryptocurrency exchange, plundering at least $7m worth of digital money. They have also been accused of ransacking the Bank of Bangladesh in 2015, making out with about $81 million which were then transferred to multiple accounts located in the Philippines.
Moriuchi also told Telegraph that “evidence suggests hacker cells have operational hubs in foreign locations”. She added that Recorded Future was investigating whether North Korean hackers were stationed throughout several bases in different countries which included China and India. Of course, the North Korean regime denies having had any kind of involvement in all hacking allegations. However, the fact that Bureau 121, Pyongyang’s cyber warfare agency, is handpicking promising students from prestigious universities and that the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is teaching a specialised cryptocurrency course, seems more than enough proof for Moriuchi.
Many experts agree that cryptocurrency might be the perfect vehicle for illegal activities such as money laundering and have warned the international community about its potential danger. With its anonymity, loose regulations and ability to be converted into cash, internationally isolated regimes like North Korea will certainly feel tempted to use it. Reports suggest a state-sponsored cyber army focusing on the lucrative potential of plundering cryptocurrencies might be the international community’s next step. This might be proof that a joint force comprised of many governments might already be in the making.
Moriuchi also mentions that the international community should revise and increase regulations on cryptocurrency exchanges so that track digital currency transactions more effectively. Unfortunately, this might not be a good thing to cryptocurrency itself, as it could lead to countries raising a wide set of restrictions that might indefinitely stifle the industry.