Pass it forward

Image: Shutterstock/ Natali_ Mis

It’s hard to insist a healthy national economy when most banks on the planet won’t accept your business.

That’s the dilemma fronting Northern korean leader Kim Jong-un, as mounting economic sanctions chipped his country out of the world economy. To stave off the tower financial crisis, Kim has turned to what may be the nation’s better hope: Bitcoin.

The favourite cryptocurrency is attractive because of its decentralized nature. Rather than relying on banks or individual authorities, bitcoin( and other cryptocurrency) is built on a distributed structure of users holding verified events. It’s “internet money, ” essentially, uncontrollable by any single actor.

There’s no extensive statement of just how much Bitcoin North Korea harbours, but its recent exploits have shown a compatible those who are interested in the cryptocurrency. There’s even some evidence that North Korea has started mining their own Bitcoin.

When you’re the leader of a heavily sanctioned country, then, lading up on decentralized currency is particularly attractive. It gives you some liquidity without having to rely on banks that either can’t do business with you, legally, or that may be in a position to freeze your resources at a later date, should additional sanctions come into play.

And so, North Korea has wasted the last few years building up an investment in bitcoin.

Back in April, word become apparent that the country had plagiarized a sizable stilt of of the cryptocurrency between 2013 and 2015. At the time, the 73 bitcoins were valued at approximately $88,000; in today’s market, with the best interests of the bitcoin flying, that same quantity is worth more than $1.26 million.

“Cyber-criminals have turned to bitcoin for fund as it is very difficult to track them down, ” Choi Sang-myong, of the South Korean cybersecurity firm Hauri, said at the time. “North Korea[ has] climbed on the bandwagon of bitcoin coercion since around 2012. ”

North Korea has also turned to more indirect forms of fraud as it seeks to amass a bitcoin war chest. In July 2016, the country’s intruders absconded with the data provided by more than 10 million users from Interpark, an online auctioneer and browse place. That data was then held for ransom, with North Korea challenging $2.7 million in bitcoin.

“Cyber-criminals have turned to bitcoin for money as it is very difficult to move them down.”

Interpark said at the time that it was cooperating with police, and no payoff was prepared. But it’s beneficial again to look at the related cost now: In July 2016, the price of a single bitcoin flitted at around $650; $2.7 million usefulnes at the time would have been able to likened to more than 4,000 bitcoins. That same number of bitcoins now would be worth more than $71.8 million.

More recently, North Korean hackers are believed to have turning now to ransomware, which is essentially a computer virus that demands fee in exchange for restored better access to your data. Remember, too: Access to the internet is strictly more restricted in North Korea. It is enormously unlikely that something as data-intensive as cryptocurrency could happen without the implications of Kim’s government.

Earlier this year, the WannaCry ransomware made headlines around the globe, affecting various country level services. The perpetrators demanded massive bitcoin fees. It is widely believed that Lazarus, the group behind the two attacks, counts Northern korean intruders among its members, and that WannaCry originated there.

Several months after the May 2017 affects, three bitcoin pouches known to contain ransom paid to the WannaCry hackers were empty-headed. The total came to approximately 52 bitcoins, an amount that is now worth time under $900,000.

This speaks to another important point: There is protection inherent in the obscurity of bitcoin ownership. While it’s probable to move how bitcoin is moving around, there’s no reliable acces to suss out the name of who owns it.

In the case of the WannaCry ransom, three pocketbooks emptied into numerous other pouches, which then emptied into other pouches. Eventually, the increasingly sowed ransom fees met their nature to ShapeShift, a cryptocurrency exchange. It’s a structure of high-tech fund laundering, accommodating a degree of protection that benefits on the decentralized nature of a currency like bitcoin.

While North Korea has disavowed any misbehavior, the two countries has proven those who are interested in cryptocurrency. In November, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology — a prestigious school for North Korea’s ruling elite — hosted a lecturing by Professor Federico Tenga, the panel of experts in the field.

“He explained in detail the fundamentals of Blockchain Technology and then spoke of its most remarkable work -Bitcoin, ” the university’s website predicts. “Many superb technical questions were asked about the inner labour of Bitcoin, its risks, and the measures taken to ensure security.”

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