South Korea’s spy agency has begun investigating the possibility that North Korean hackers orchestrated the theft of about $500 million worth of digital coins from Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc., said a lawmaker who attended a meeting with the head of the intelligence service.
The National Intelligence Service is investigating last month’s incident — one of the largest cryptocurrency heists in history — based on similarities with past cases associated with its northern neighbor’s cyber-attack apparatus, said the lawmaker, who didn’t want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information. The South Korean agency is now examining the incident with cooperation from international authorities, the lawmaker added.
Cybersecurity experts say North Korea has master-minded a growing number of crypto-heists in past years, as Kim Jong Un’s hermit regime seeks capital to bankroll its nuclear weapons program and circumvent tough international sanctions. South Korean investigators are already said to be looking into Pyongyang’s involvement in the hack of Seoul-based exchange Youbit, which collapsed in December. In a recent twist, cyber-sleuths say the regime’s attacks have expanded to include hijacking computers to mine digital currencies — particularly hard-to-trace Monero.
South Korea’s spy agency hasn’t been able to unearth evidence of North Korean involvement in the Coincheck case, but was exploring that avenue based on Pyongyang’s track record and patterns observed in previous attacks, the lawmaker said. Representatives for the NIS and defense ministry weren’t immediately available for comment.
The Coincheck heist was the biggest since the 2014 disappearance of about $470 million worth of Bitcoins from the Mt. Gox exchange, and reverberated throughout global markets for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The exchange, which halted withdrawals after detecting the infiltration on Jan. 26, has said it’s bolstering security systems before resuming operations.