That's the guess of experts watching the insular Hermit Kingdom.
In a report on Monday, researchers at security firm FireEye said they observed threat actors linked to Pyongyang have targeted at least three South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges since May this year to steal funds. According to researchers from FireEye Inc.
While bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges may seem like odd targets for nation state actors interested in funding state coffers, some of the other illicit endeavors North Korea pursues further demonstrate interest in conducting financial crime on the regime's behalf. The same factors that have driven their success - lack of state control and secretiveness - would make them useful fund raising and money laundering tools for a man threatening to use nuclear weapons against the U.S.
A cybersecurity firm has warned that North Korea is launching hacking attacks to accrue bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies as a means of circumventing the stiff sanctions brought against the country by the United Nations.
Luke McNamara, a researcher at FireEye Inc.and author of the new report, was quoted as saying that North Korea probably views this sort of activity as a very low-priced solution to bring in hard cash.
The resolution bans all textile exports and prohibits all countries from authorising new work permits for North Korean workers - two key sources of hard currency. USA officials said the new measures would cut the country's textile exports by 90 percent, restricting its ability to get hard currency.
"If actors compromise an exchange itself (as opposed to an individual account or wallet) they potentially can move cryptocurrencies out of online wallets, swapping them for other, more anonymous cryptocurrencies or send them directly to other wallets on different exchanges to withdraw them in fiat currencies such as South Korean won, U.S. dollars, or Chinese renminbi", the report added.
While North Korean hackers have been conducting cyberattacks overseas for years, especially against South Korea (paywall), a new report from security firm FireEye notes that the country has incorporated a new element into its online warfare-bitcoin.
North Korea's telecommunications ministry didn't respond to an emailed request for comments.
North Korea operates what South Korea believes is an army of hackers expanding its focus from military espionage to financial theft. The report noted that "the massive popularity of the cryptocurrency gained Kim Jong-un's attention" and this represents a great opportunity for crypto traders.
"As more money goes into cryptocurrency exchanges and more people buy bitcoin and ethereum, exchanges become larger targets for this group", said McNamara. None other than Kim Jong-un.
Besides exchanges, FireEye said an English-language bitcoin news website was breached by North Korea, which would likely allow hackers to identify people visiting the site. "So you see cryptocurrency exchanges, particularly in South Korea, becoming a logical target".
Hackers tied to North Korea are also suspected of carrying out a series of attacks on global banks that came to light a year ago. "They've been creative in how they use their cyber-espionage capability".
It's entirely possible that North Korea is turning to bitcoin by stealing them from exchanges to then launder it into hard cash amid increasing scrutiny and sanctions from the worldwide community. A similar technique was used last month to empty the bitcoin wallets related to WannaCry. But FireEye points out that hackers can swap them into other, more anonymous cryptocurrencies - or move them elsewhere and eventually withdraw them in traditional currencies like South Korean won or USA dollars.