Law enforcement in South Korea is looking into Youbit, the South Korean bitcoin exchange that was the subject of a heist that brought the exchange down, and are investigating the prospect that North Korea may have been involved.
The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the situation, reported the inquiry into the hack of Youbit is in the early stages, with a review potentially taking weeks to complete. The sources told The Wall Street Journal there are signs and historical evidence that North Korea is behind the hack. The paper noted that last year, hackers in North Korea went after Youbit, which at the time was operating under a different company name. After the hack of Youbit, Yapian, the company that runs the cryptocurrency exchange, halted trading and filed for bankruptcy. North Korea is suspected of ordering hacks against digital token exchanges in South Korea and is also reportedly increasing the number of attempts to steal from bitcoin investors themselves. With sanctions hurting the country North Korea has been trying to come up with ways to bring in money and hacking has been one of them, noted the paper. The White House this week said North Korea was behind WannaCry, the ransomware attack that spread throughout the world. North Korea has denied it is involved in any of the recent hacks.
“North Korea is an ideal country to use hacking and financial tools like bitcoin,” said Troy Stangarone, a senior director at the Korea Economic Institute said in the Wall Street Journal report. “They’re experimenting with ways to earn back lost money from sanctions.” With bitcoin and other cryptocurrency taking off around the world it has presented a new opportunity for North Korea given cryptocurrency isn’t regulated and is highly vulnerable to hacks. Its attractive to North Korea because cryptocurrency can rise in value in a quick amount of time. People familiar with the investigation told the paper that North Korea has gone after three South Koran cryptocurrency exchanges in recent months including the attack on Youbit in April which went by the name Yapizon at the time.