You can take Kim Jong Un’s oil, but what about his bitcoin? Even as President Donald Trump’s administration touted a deal with the United Nations on new sanctions against North Korea, online sleuths were sounding the alarm over the regime’s pursuit of an asset that could keep money flowing for its weapons programs: crypto currencies.
As Bloomberg’s Yuji Nakamura and Sam Kim report, cybersecurity outfit FireEye has traced hacks of South Korean bitcoin and ethereum exchanges to North Korean operators. The incidents — including one in May that coincided with an exchange’s $15 million loss — show the difficulty in denying cash to a regime with years of experience circumventing sanctions. It already exports “Made-in-China” clothing and launders tens of millions of dollars across baccarat tables. For the little that is known to agencies about the isolated nation’s policies, tracking online transactions would involve more installations, mostly forced through South Korea.
By deploying North Korea’s hacker army, Kim is showing he has little to fear from the UN Security Council. And with China and Russia signaling they’ve reached their limit on approving sanctions, the options for Trump to tighten the net around Kim are increasingly limited.