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North Korea Is Dodging Sanctions With a Secret Bitcoin Stash (bloomberg.com) 188

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: North Korea appears to be stepping up efforts to secure bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which could be used to avoid trade restrictions including new sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council. Hackers from Kim Jong Un's regime are increasing their attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea and related sites, according to a new report from security researcher FireEye Inc. They also breached an English-language bitcoin news website and collected bitcoin ransom payments from global victims of the malware WannaCry, according to the researcher. Kim's apparent interest in cryptocurrencies comes amid rising prices and popularity. The same factors that have driven their success -- lack of state control and secretiveness -- would make them useful fund raising and money laundering tools for a man threatening to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. With tightening sanctions and usage of cryptocurrencies broadening, security experts say North Korea's embrace of digital cash will only increase. The 15-member Security Council on Monday approved sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its latest missile and nuclear tests. U.S. officials said the new measures would cut the country's textile exports by 90 percent, restricting its ability to get hard currency.

North Korea Is Dodging Sanctions With a Secret Bitcoin Stash

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is precisely why cryptocurrency was invented - to skirt the law and avoid moral responsibilities. Its sole purpose is as an enabler of criminal activity.

    Just fucking ban this fake monopoly money bullshit already.

    • by Air-conditioned cowh ( 552882 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:13AM (#55187281)
      So the banks that govern our fiat currencies have "moral responsibilities" do they? Actually, no, they don't at all. This is precisely why cryptocurrency was invented.
      • With central banking, there is a moderate amount of transparency and regulation. The same can't be said for crypto-currency.

    • I guess you haven't read any of the cryptocurrency White Papers, or the tons of articles and books discussing the problems of a central authority which devalues currency and the resulting inflation.
    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:21AM (#55187319)

      This is precisely why cryptocurrency was invented - to skirt the law and avoid moral responsibilities. Its sole purpose is as an enabler of criminal activity.

      Just fucking ban this fake monopoly money bullshit already.

      I'll support this mentality right after I see CEOs of banks behind bars for skirting laws and violating moral responsibilities.

      The corrupt Financial Industrial Complex is the real reason cryptocurrency was invented and continues to be justified.

      • by courteaudotbiz ( 1191083 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:39AM (#55187381) Homepage

        The corrupt Financial Industrial Complex is the real reason cryptocurrency was invented and continues to be justified.

        And the real reason why the governments will want it to stay in place is full traceability. Yes, for now, BTC is totally anonymous. But wait till the governments put their nose into it, and require all wallet holders to be IDd. Then ALL the transactions you will ever have done in your life can be tied to you.

        I want to still be able to use paper money, and they will make it more and more difficult to use it.

        • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:45AM (#55187419)

          The corrupt Financial Industrial Complex is the real reason cryptocurrency was invented and continues to be justified.

          And the real reason why the governments will want it to stay in place is full traceability. Yes, for now, BTC is totally anonymous. But wait till the governments put their nose into it, and require all wallet holders to be IDd. Then ALL the transactions you will ever have done in your life can be tied to you. I want to still be able to use paper money, and they will make it more and more difficult to use it.

          With the amount of surveillance in the world today, not even paper money transactions should be considered private or anonymous.

          • With the amount of surveillance in the world today, not even paper money transactions should be considered private or anonymous.

            Still, there are ways. With cryptocurrencies, there may be none.

          • With the amount of surveillance in the world today, not even paper money transactions should be considered private or anonymous.

            Good rule of thumb: if there are two people involved, it's probably not private or anonymous. But it might be.

            If there are three or more involved, it's definitely not private or anonymous.

            Note that this rule applies throughout history, and probably well back into prehistory.

        • What wallet? I have no wallet that I could ID.

        • by IMightB ( 533307 )

          WTF, BTC, has never been anonymous, that is simply not a claim that the creators ever claimed. It's something that people that don't understand it or intentionally misinterpret it claim.

        • But wait till the governments put their nose into it, and require all wallet holders to be IDd. Then ALL the transactions you will ever have done in your life can be tied to you.

          This is unenforceable. Bitcoin users can have billions of "accounts" and most wallets change the address (account) with each transaction for privacy. Some new changes already in use as we speak add much higher privacy to bitcoin. Lightning network payment channels with onion routing default with no recorded tx history on the blockchain, confidential transactions, mimblewimble, cross atomic swaps , all make chain analysis obsolete.

        • BTC never was anonymous,
          It is fully traceable.

          Hence the break downs on Silk something and others

      • Problem is that Bitcoin gives absolute tracability. If your wallet is known, every transaction you have ever done is public record. Yes, you can play shell games with tumbling (and hope the exchange doesn't just run off with your currency) or multiple wallets, but eventually, the wallets will be attributed to the person, and the transactions easily traced, with criminal/civil proceedings following.

        It would be nice for a cryptocurrency to have more anonymity. That way, if someone is running for office, a

    • This is precisely why cryptocurrency was invented - to skirt the law and avoid moral responsibilities. Its sole purpose is as an enabler of criminal activity.

      Just fucking ban this fake monopoly money bullshit already.

      Found the government shill!

      I'd point out the fallacies in your 'argument', but they're so obvious that I won't bother, since you've already drunk the Kool-Aid and had that little mind of yours permanently made up for you.

    • Yeah, cash can't be used for this.

    • And when the BitCoin bubble bursts they'll be no better off than when they started
    • Its sole purpose is as an enabler of criminal activity.

      So in order to enable North Korea's criminal activity show me where they intend to convert the bitcoin to products services or internationally tradeable currency for the purposes of circumventing the sanctions.

      People like you and the author of the article are so focused on the what that they forget about the more important factor: how.

      Unless fat Kimmy is buying uranium in bitcoin now all he's doing is building up a stash of worthless bits he can't convert to anything usable without being stuck by the same s

    • This is precisely why cryptocurrency was invented - to skirt the law and avoid moral responsibilities. Its sole purpose is as an enabler of criminal activity.

      Just fucking ban this fake monopoly money bullshit already.

      If that's the case, why are companies like JP Morgan Chase and RBS using Ethereum as a blockchain in various projects?

      How North Korea is getting around the sanctions is less important than the who is helping them do it. Aside from the often mentioned China, it's Iran - who has ready money for any nuclear technology that Pyongyang would be willing to give them - and Pakistan, who was one of the enablers of North Korea's nuclear program.

      Depressing as it sounds particularly due to its potential fallout in

  • Regardless of the payment method, the problem is that goods are still physically flowing into NK, paid for. What is China / South Korea / Japan doing about those cargo ships or vessels supplying the regime, or the companies behind them?
    • China (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      N. Korea only exists because of China. MacArthur had the fucking N. Koreans almost off the map but the Chinese had to come in and save them and prop up the Kim regimes.

      It is 100% China's fault that North Korea exists and pulls this shit. All they have to do is pull the rug out and N. Korea falls. Un wants to be the shit, China is perfectly capable of neutralizing him.

      China wants to be a World power? Well, it's time they learn the burdens and responsibilities.

      Otherwise, China can go fuck themselves.

      • Re:China (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kierthos ( 225954 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @09:28AM (#55187349) Homepage

        China is propping up North Korea because they want a buffer state in the way. They're not exactly pleased with Kim Jong Un's nuclear ambitions, but the last thing they want is a regime change to a more democratic model.

        They're supporting the (somewhat watered down) sanctions that just passed the UN Security Council, and you damn well bet that there's some conversations going on between China and North Korea over this. But they still have to be careful about this because, as you may have noticed, North Korea doesn't have a history of stable reactions.

        China has also said that if North Korea is preemptively attacked, they will honor their defense treaty with North Korea and assist them. Hopefully, Trump isn't stupid enough to test that. But China has also said that if North Korea starts anything (like attacking Guam), then they're on their own. Hopefully, Kim Jong Un isn't stupid enough to test that.

        • Also, China really, really doesn't want a whole bunch of North Korea refugees fleeing over the border if North Korea gets attacked (preemptively or not), so they want to keep things calmed down.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            You misunderstand China. Refugees entering their country is not a problem. Refugees surviving being shot is another issue.

            The biggest mistake you can make about China is thinking that they think like Westerners, Indians, Russians, or even Middle-Easterners. The Chinese government do not have the same scruples and ethics you assume other folks to have.

            There is a glossy sheen over a nasty ball of ugly over there. I would trust the Russians 100 times more.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Another reason they are propping them up is that if North Korea falls, it will mean millions of refugees headed in every direction, including China. Remember, North Korea is basically just a huge concentration camp.

          As for "assist them", that's quite open. Will they be pissed off, sure. Shipping arms and munitions? Probably. Volonteers? Questionable. Outright war with South Korea and the US over North Korea? Not impossible but it would be very irrational. China today is not China in the 50's. Basically China

          • Yeah, I remembered that 'refugees' point after I posted.

            If North Korea is preemptively attacked, China's response will be based off of the nature of that attack. If it's just bombing runs on NK's nuclear and missile facilities, China's response will probably be in the nature of providing aerial support and anti-aircraft support.

            If it's an escalated preemptive attack, China's response will also escalate. I'm hoping that with this latest batch of sanctions from the UN that it won't come to that, but we're lit

          • Say that to an irrational mofo like Kim, Xi, or Putin.

            Putin has zero problems shooting himself in the foot.

            You need to be politically educated

        • > China is propping up North Korea because they want a buffer state in the way.

          Indeed. The word is "plausible deniability"

          China's excuse is "See, _we_ aren't the bad guys. N. Korea is."

          > Hopefully, Trump isn't stupid enough to test that.
          > Hopefully, Kim Jong Un isn't stupid enough to test that.

          Hoping that two morons won't be stupid, is well, stupid.

          WWW3 has already started. It just a matter of time before nukes get involved.

        • This is a dictature so they have to have an "enemy" at the moment they are using the USA, with no intention to attack (they are a dictature, they want to rationally stay at the top, attacking would mean their end, contrary to propaganda they are not dumb). But ! Back in 1950 China did not want them to go to war, they attacked the south in spite of that. And got spanked (albeit admitedely the US did a lot of population killing). So even rational people can overestimate their chance at winning.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Kierthos ( 225954 )

            The only problem with the "North Korea is only saber-rattling" thing is that the other side has to recognize that it's only saber-rattling.

            Trump.... doesn't. He has a serious "run off at the mouth" problem on Twitter and in other media where he is clearly not thinking things through before he says them.

            Which, if he were still just a businessman, or just a Senator or Representative, wouldn't be that bad, really. I mean, how much attention do people pay to all the stupid shit Louie Gohmert says, for example?

            B

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Define "preemptive" attack?

          When Kim launches another ICBM over Japan, is that an act of war and can we respond or not?

          If one suggests that a missile launch is not a threat or act of war, then nothing is. Especially considering the fact that Kim could be tipping that missile with nuclear bombs, we'd never know until it was too fucking late and Tokyo or Portland is an ash heap.

          While I doubt Kim is that stupid, there is no indication that he is smart either.

          • Define "preemptive" attack?

            When Kim launches another ICBM over Japan, is that an act of war and can we respond or not?

            Launching an ICBM over a state=provocation.

            Launching an ICBM at a state=act of war.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            >>When Kim launches another ICBM over Japan, is that an act of war and can we respond or not?

            I'd say if it happens again it's an act of war. Prove it was intended to miss on purpose. It's not like they pre-file flight plans with us and Japan.

          • Shooting down the missile is fine. Waiting to see where the missile goes and retaliating if it hits anything is fine. Striking North Korea for shooting a warning shot across Japan (or wherever) is not. If a missile wipes out "Tokyo or Portland" the US can respond, but doing an early retaliation strike gains you nothing (the missile is in the air). This isn't a MAD scenario like with the USSR, where you had to respond while the missiles were flying because otherwise there's a good chance your entire launch c

        • by RobinH ( 124750 )
          That's interesting and somewhat explains the apparently provocative stance of the US. If they can provoke NK into acting, then the US can do something and China (supposedly) won't back NK.
        • China is propping up North Korea because they want a buffer state in the way. They're not exactly pleased with Kim Jong Un's nuclear ambitions, but the last thing they want is a regime change to a more democratic model.

          You are correct in your understanding of the situation. I'm not completely convinced that they would really go to North Korea's aid if the US preemptively attacked them. But it's not my decision to make.

          I suspect Trump may be trying to broker Putin's help here. This may be a problem that Putin can't solve even if he wanted to. He said as much a few days ago. But Putin, like many Russians, sees the world as a zero sum game and he loves nothing more than to see chaos and disorder effect the USA so

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Realistically, the DPRK is a province of China. Kim's rockets? Chinese made. His nukes? Chinese. What keeps his country from imploding is China. This is because China can have the DPRK attack the US or the West, and then join on North Korea's side for WW3 when North Korea gets hit by retaliatory strikes. It is a smart move on China's part, since they can be aggressive and expansionistic (think Tibet), while not having it be obvious that they are itching to light up the Pacific Rim and settle old scor

      • Otherwise, China can go fuck themselves.

        Oh god please don't tell them that! There's already enough of them!

      • MacArthur was insane, even demanding to nuke China, which as sure as hell would have started a world war, and that one would have definitely been the last.
        Be happy North Korea exists, because it saved your life.

  • You can pay in bitcoin, but you still have to pay shipping. How does that work?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is no concrete evidence that this has occurs. That "research" entry which is comprised of a single blog entry does not show anything substantial. The link to the supposedly compromised four wallets in South Korea, is a generic article about Bitcoin and doesn't mention any compromises anywhere on that page.

    When looking at the actual SK exchange compromise there is no indication that NK was involved by anyone; https://hacked.press/2017/04/29/korean-bitcoin-exchange-yapizon-confirms-5-million-hack-all-

  • Kim Jung-Un (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is very sexy man.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm wondering if there's a relation between this and China's current crackdown on Bitcoin exchanges.

  • If North Korea is building up a bitcoin stash, then maybe there would be some way for the NSA to cripple the bitcoin currency and wipe out North Korea's savings. (Of course all other bitcoin holders would be bankrupted, sorry!) Either they could find some vulnerability in the blockchain protocols or, through hacking, infiltrate and damage (okay steal) enough digital wallets as to undermine people's confidence in the currency.

    Remember that bitcoin, like all money, is only as good as the TRUST people put in

    • Of course this assumes that the NSA has the ability to do these things.

      Dennis Rodman has already planted the malware needed to do this.

    • If North Korea is building up a bitcoin stash, then maybe there would be some way for the NSA to cripple the bitcoin currency and wipe out North Korea's savings..

      Best of luck, bitcoin thrives in hostile byzantine environments and will only grow stronger with attacks. The war on drugs is an easier task to accomplish than stopping bitcoin. Whether nation states understand this or not , they heavily subsidize the value of bitcoin with their laws and regulations. Bitcoins primary raison d'être is for regulatory arbitrage. Thus the best way to undermine bitcoin would be to start legalizing everything and removing all regulations which indirectly subsidize the value

  • If it can be proved that North Korea is using ransomware as a source of funds, that's an act of war. The line is crossed.

    • As if this is the worst thing N Korea has been involved with.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How much more of an indicator do you need that the sanctions are hurting the man than when the turns to Bitcoin to keep his country and his personal extravagances afloat? Can he keep the import and export operations of a whole country moving using Bitcoin for his medium of exchange?

    This is a move of desperation when a country takes to using Silk Road type tactics to keep trade going.

  • Aren't bitcoins easily trackable? They are only anonymous if you mine them yourself or buy them from someone that mined them themselves.

    Yes, it is too much trouble for your standard police department to track them. But national spy/anti-terrorist agencies like the USA, Russia, China are another story.

    If you don't think the NSA/CIA/Homeland Security know exactly who North Korea is giving bitcoins too and who is giving them bitcoins, then, I have a Border Wall to sell you. Cheap. Free if you can get Mexi

    • Aren't bitcoins easily trackable? They are only anonymous if you mine them yourself or buy them from someone that mined them themselves.

      Some new changes already in use as we speak add much higher privacy to bitcoin. Lightning network payment channels with onion routing as a default with no recorded tx history on the blockchain, confidential transactions, mimblewimble, cross atomic swaps , all make chain analysis obsolete.

  • by aicrules ( 819392 ) on Wednesday September 13, 2017 @10:45AM (#55187757)
    I still don't understand how mining bitcoins can be a thing...I understand why any random person might invest in them because somehow a real dollar value has been attached to them, but when they get created out of nothing via activities that don't have any semblance of value or value control...I could never bring myself to even invest a dollar. To say it seems shady is probably a gross understatement. But I'm sure those who love bitcoin and the like have a different point of view...in the nearly decade that it's been around, I have tried numerous times to truly understand how it can even exist, and I've failed every time. Yes, any currency is made up and requires any two people who would use the currency in an exchange to agree that the currency has value. And yes, fiat paper currency doesn't have any actual value itself, but there is at least some level of legal infrastructure supporting it. Bitcoin is less than a fiat currency. And I just can't wrap my mind around why so many people have jumped into it. I'm just one person though...
    • As you say, countries can just print more bills and dilute the value of the cash you already own. That can lead to hyper-inflation.

      Why people trust Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies is because there isn't a single government controlling it, meaning that the whole world would have to cooperate and basically shut down the internet to block them.

      • I'm not saying distributed currency control is a bad thing, but I don't see how it survives. It feels like there has to be a gigantic bubble propping it up and when it pops it will all be immediately worthless with no possibility to recover because there literally is nothing to recover...
        • Bitcoin is like any other market, when there's a bubble it pops but afterwards the price adjusts itself accordingly.

          Looking at the price chart since the beginning [coingecko.com], you can see Bitcoin could collapse at a little above USD$3000 and still be on the right track. Reaching USD$5000 so quickly was a bubble, it has popped and the price is stabilizing.

    • but when they get created out of nothing via activities that don't have any semblance of value or value control

      The minting of bitcoin is controlled by the destruction of registered value by means of burning energy to create fungible value . This is inherently an inefficient process by design that states are highly subsidizing indirectly through laws and regulations.

      .I could never bring myself to even invest a dollar.

      Unless you are gambling on the forex market with large amounts of fiat, you shouldn't invest in fiat currencies because they constantly lose value due to inflation. Bitcoin on the other hand is disinflationary. Therefore, scarce and likely to keep going u

    • Your dollars are created out of nothing, too.

  • I am no cryptocurrency expert, but my understanding is that the BTC really only has value because the BTC user base has formed a consensus that it does. I believe the vast majority of conscience human beings can agree that North Korea's (government's) recent actions and stance are dangerous and morally reprehensible.

    Assuming that NK has channeled most of its BTC stash through a small number of wallets, and that most of them may be identified by NK's spending patterns, I think this is a good case for implementing "poisoned wallets" to render all BTC (or partial BTC) that left a verboten wallet after a given time stamp. This would work, of course, only for users that use the blacklist enabled version of the software... but I believe enough people find NK's position sufficiently dangerous to warrant adopting this alternative code base to at least GREATLY DEVALUE these "tainted" BTC. This type of change begs two interesting questions:

    1) How are the list of poisoned wallets managed? On the micro level, I believe the choice of banned wallets should be up to the individual BTC user, but most users won't want to manage such a tedious list. I expect users would want to defer this responsibility to one or more "accusation bodies" each with their own accusation, conviction, poisoning and appeal processes, all blockchain protected (outside the BTC blockchain)... I expect users would sign up for these poisoning feeds in one of two groups: 1) organizations that uphold the users moral convictions, or 2) organizations that seek out a superset of poisoned wallets, for those that want to ensure any BTC they receive are untainted, and good for other transactions. I believe most users would be most interested in aggregators (#2), but enough users would also add original accusers (#1) to make such a system plausable.

    2) Tainted BTCs wouldn't be completely valueless, as some users may still accept them, so differently tainted BTCs would trade at their own distinct prices, which may be an interesting opportunity for cryptocurrency exchange companies.

    What do you think?

    • Assuming that NK has channeled most of its BTC stash through a small number of wallets, and that most of them may be identified by NK's spending patterns, I think this is a good case for implementing "poisoned wallets" to render all BTC (or partial BTC) that left a verboten wallet after a given time stamp.

      There is no way this will happen . We may not want bitcoin to be used by N Korea but adding blacklists, taint , and reducing fungibility/privacy is unacceptable. Fungibility is more sacrosanct than the 21 million limit in bitcoin and we have already made great changes with privacy that are starting to be used now to make any sort of chain analysis impossible.

    • "BTC really only has value because the BTC user base has formed a consensus that it does"

      You pretty much just described very succinctly every currency that exists.

      Even the last part about tainted BTC's pretty much describe those currencies that go through hyper inflation due to printing of money to the point of worthlessness.

  • The sanctions are on goods and movement of currency. Using bitcoin doesn't make goods magically move (actually quite the opposite, you'll find most companies don't accept it). Using bitcoin also doesn't magically increase the amount of currency trade that has been sanctioned. The money needs to physically move, having bitcoins doesn't make that happen unless you also have bitcoin exchanges in direct violation of the sanctions.

    Stupid article is stupid.

    • The main limitation to the sanctions is that it is difficult to wire transfers and international banking. North Korea is basically blacklisted in the majority of banks right now. But once you have a way to put money into another party's account, you can arrange for them to acquire and deliver the goods you wish. There is no naval blockade of North Korea, so importing products amounts to putting it on a ship and sailing it right in.

      The sanctions are disruptive to North Korea's trade, but not absolute. And be

  • If THEIR TRADING PARTNER implements sanctions they are required to, then they will not accept Bitcoin either ---- Also, if you want your trading sanctions to work properly when not all merchants agree to them, anyone with a clue knows you need an embargo or monitoring in place and means of enforcing your sanctions too; a nice thing about Bitcoin is it's traceable, thus more transparent to monitoring than cash transactions.

    North Korea doesn't have the least bit of trouble obtaining US-Dollars. Also, N

  • Only China can reign in North Korea, and they're not going to unless it's really costing them. China currently assists NK and they will continue to do so regardless of what they say so long as their relationship with western countries isn't seriously threatened. It keeps the rest of the world playing nice with China to try to get them to help. Wrong approach. Drastically slash imports to the US from China. US consumers will suffer a bit from higher prices and from shortages (read "severe price spikes") in t

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