Is North Korea hacking computers to mine cryptocurrency?

Following new international sanctions that banned many of its exports, North Korea has resorted to new ways of making money, according to a Bloomberg report claiming that Kim Jong-un's regime is using hackers to hijack computers and mine cryptocurrency.

The news site spoke to Kwak Kyoung-ju, who heads up a hacking analysis team at the South Korean government-backed Financial Security Institute. According to Kwak, a group of hackers known as Andariel hijacked a South Korean company's server last summer and used it to mine $25,000 worth of Monero, a digital currency.

"Andariel is going after anything that generates cash these days," Kwak said. "Dust gathered over time builds a mountain."

This news follows the claim from the UK government that North Korea was behind the WannaCry attack that affected 300,000 computers in 150 countries, including 48 NHS trusts. Victims of WannaCry were faced with a message demanding $800-$1,000 US dollars in Bitcoin in order to unlock their computers.

Kwak pointed out that the secretive state appears to prefer Monero to Bitcoin, because it's easier to hide and launder. Like Bitcoin, a network of miners verifies Monero transactions, but multiple transactions are combined and "dual-key stealth" addresses are used, making it harder to track both the origin and recipient of funds.

Cryptocurrency is 'mined' by using powerful computers to solve complex cryptographic puzzles. When a system correctly 'guesses' the solution to a problem, it is rewarded with a predetermined amount of the currency.

Since January 2017, the price of Bitcoin has increased from $997 (751) to $13,705 (10,114). The price reached an all-time high of $19,850 (14,619) in mid-December, but it has been extremely volatile since then, dropping by as much as $7,000 in the 10 days that followed.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, warned last year that the long-term prospect of the cryptocurrency is not strong. "The currency isn't going to work," he said, at a banking conference in New York. "You can't have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart." It's hard to imagine this warning will deter the North Korean hackers if the reports are true - after all, when you're using someone else's computer to mine, there's really nothing to lose."