North Korea Launched Cryptocurrency Attacks in Response to Sanctions, Says FBI

United States sanctions incentivized North Korea to launch cyberattacks involving cryptocurrency, a senior FBI official told a conference. The comments were quoted by South Korean English-language news outlet Korea Herald on May 30.

Speaking at an event organized by U.S. thinktank The Aspen Institute, Tonya Ugoretz, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, said financial strain had driven North Korean state actors to cybercrime.

As Cointelegraph reported, Pyongyang is suspected to be behind several major campaigns involving cryptocurrency ransomware and theft in recent years.

These have ranged from global attacks, such as 2017’s WannaCry, to targeted moves against exchanges in South Korea and nearby countries.

“Sanctions are having an economic impact, so cyber operations are a means to make money, whether it’s through cryptocurrency mining or bank theft,” Ugoretz said.

Erin Joe, director of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center under the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, concurred, stating the FBI was focusing on deterrence of crypto-related attacks.

“There is a huge effort in the FBI, and also several other entities across government, looking at ways to stop malicious activity (surrounding) cryptocurrency,” Korea Herald reported him as saying.

The debate around the true extent of cryptocurrency as a weapon for dodging political and economic sanctions continues to draw controversy.

Some sources claim that states such as Venezuela and Russia, both of which are under heavy U.S. sanctions, are involved in leveraging the technology to keep flows of wealth open in the absence of traditional financial support.

The same conference also saw a debate on handling threats from Russia, as well as China, Iran and non-state actors.

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