Business 3 December 2018

Erik Gibbs

Crypto exchanges becoming too challenging for North Korean hackers

Cryptocurrency exchanges are getting better at protecting their assets. Security has improved greatly this year, making it more difficult for thieves to break in and steal crypto. Those efforts have resulted in the mindless cyber thugs out of North Korea to give up on attacking the exchanges, going after individuals, instead.

As reported by the South China Morning Post, the number of crypto attacks on individuals has risen substantially in the past several months. The news outlet talked to the CEO of South Korea-based Cuvepia, a cybersecurity firm, who indicated that the company had recently uncovered more than 30 attacks. He added that it’s possible that a number of attacks have not been caught, which could put the actual number of heists or attempted heists at more than 100.

The founder of cyber warfare research company IssueMakersLab, Simon Choi, adds that the transition to individual attacks is a direct response to heightened security on the exchanges. He adds, “Direct attacks on exchanges have become harder, so hackers are thinking about alternatively going after individual users with weak security.”

Choi explains that the majority of the attacks have been conducted against wealthy South Korean citizens because “[the hackers] believe that if they target CEOs of wealthy firms and heads of organisations” then “they can take advantage of billions of won in virtual currencies.”

Another cybersecurity analyst, FireEye’s Luke McNamara, also pointed out that “it’s possible from previous intrusions they’ve been able to collect information” about “people using these [cryptocurrency] exchanges. He states that “when [the hackers] understand and know the targets” then “they are able to craft lures specific to those organisations or entities.”

There have been indications that the hacks aren’t just being led by crooks simply looking for an easy payday. Reports started circulating a couple of weeks ago that the North Korean regime could be behind the attacks. As sanctions create a weaker government, North Korea government officials could be turning to thievery, crypto money laundering and initial coin offerings (ICOs) in order to attract funds to continue keeping the citizens under control and to line their own pockets.

Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (SegWit) chain are referenced as BTC coins; tokens on the Bitcoin Cash ABC chain are referenced as BCH, BCH-ABC or BAB coins.

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