Indications show North Korea is behind hacking Bitcoin accounts in organized government effort. Estimations value the amount of cryptocurrency hacked at over $80,000.

North Korea might be behind the hacking of thousands of Bitcoins. The cash-strapped nation has elevated its efforts over the years increase financing. Some of the largest hacks over the past few years can be attributed to their efforts. Bold targets are in the crosshairs of the sophisticated army of hackers.

The New York Times reported that North Korean hackers tried to hack Polish banks in 2016. The hackers left a trail behind, tipping researchers off to other targets such as the World Bank, European Central Bank and Bank of America.

Financial gain

The list of targets points to financial motives rather than purely disruptive attacks. The cash-strapped country has lost more aid and support in recent years due to provoking with increased militarization and an expanding nuclear program.

A group of 1,700 hackers and over 5,000 trainers and supervisors are allegedly part of the efforts, according to South Korean estimates. The majority of manpower seems to be located abroad in countries like China, Southeast Asia and Europe.

According to South Korean officials, North Korea has been training hackers at least since the 90’s. Yonhap News estimates as much as $88,100 stolen between 2013 to 2015 in Bitcoin alone.

Choi Sang-Myong of South Korean cybersecurity firm Hauri Inc was quoted in Yonhap news saying, “Cyber criminals have turned to Bitcoin for money as it is very difficult to track them down. Since tracking down the culprits is very difficult, North Korea had jumped on the bandwagon of Bitcoin extortion since around 2012.”

Bangladesh Heist

The $81 mln attack on the central bank of Bangladesh and 2014 attack on Sony seem to have common characteristics. Symantec researcher Eric Chen states, “We have found multiple links, which gave us reasonable confidence that it’s the same group behind Bangladesh and Polish attacks.”

Attacks target both more traditional means of finance security such as SWIFT and digital currencies, showing a sophisticated effort. SWIFT is highly regarded for its security, despite attacks becoming more prevalent recently.

This introduces the opportunity for financial institutions to seek more secure methods of dealing with reserves. With security and difficulty to hack being a key factor of Blockchain technology, it is natural to see how banks and financial institutions can ultimately leverage it for safety.

How to stay safe

This should act as a signal to all of those holding cryptocurrencies to increase measures of security. North Korean hackers abroad are known to run illegal gambling sites and this might understandably be the link to Bitcoin wallets being hacked.

Users can protect themselves by selecting reputable vendors, even if it costs a few satoshis more in the casino example. Frequently the human factor puts wallets at risk. Other factors to increase your assets include holding your own keys, hardware wallets or paper wallets.