The crypto craze that swept the globe last year reached into some of the farthest corners of the world. Rural and remote parts of Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean have been touched by crypto. According to a report by South Korean news source The Investor, even reclusive North Korea was “no exception to the cryptocurrency fever” last year.
While the vast majority of North Korean citizens may not even really know what cryptocurrency is, the Investor reported that crypto has acted as a lifeline for some North Korean citizens facing extreme financial hardship. Recent UN sanctions against the country have made living conditions in the country (which were already tough) even worse.
The North Korean Government Sees Crypto as a Way to Access Foreign Funds
Reports have also emerged that the North Korean government has taken a “by-any-means-necessary” approach to acquiring crypto. The North Korean government is suspected to be behind a series of hacking attacks against South Korean users and exchanges, including a $7 million Bitcoin heist on the Bithumb exchange that took place in February 2017.
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Although it’s impossible to know exactly how much crypto has flowed in and out of the country, former National Security Agency official Priscilla Moriuchi alleged that North Korea has managed to amass 11,000 BTC (worth roughly $101 million at press time) over the last year, mostly by hacking or mining.
“With the recent economic sanctions taking a toll, cryptocurrencies, in addition to ransomware attacks, is the only way to earn foreign money easily. The number of attacks will only increase in the future,” said Kim Heung-kwang. Kim heads a North Korean think tank in Seoul called North Korea Intellectual Solidarity.
According to a report by US cyber security firm Recorded Future, South Korean efforts to increase security measures on exchanges may only exacerbate the problem. “As South Korean exchanges tighten security on their networks and the government imposes stricter regulatory controls on cryptocurrencies, exchanges and users in other countries should be aware of the increased threat level from North Korean actors,” the report reads.
North Korea isn’t the only nation that has used cryptocurrency as a way to illegally access international money. The Venezuelan ‘Petro’ was largely seen by the international community as an attempt to evade sanctions and access international debt markets. At one point, an economic advisor to Vladimir Putin said that the country should create the CryptoRuble because it could be used with “no regard” for international sanctions.