‘Pyongyang Coin’ and the Future of U.S. Sanctions on North Korea

On September 13, the United States Department of Treasury announced a new round of sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, this time specifically targeting three state-sponsored hacking organizations: Bluenoroff, Andariel, and, most infamous, Lazarus Group. Five days later, Vice reported from a North Korean blockchain conference that Pyongyang was starting the process of developing its own cryptocurrency, according to a Spanish national serving as a special delegate for North Korea.

Regardless of North Korea’s true capacity and intention to design its own cryptocurrency, the estimate that the U.S. Treasury cites assesses that between January 2017 and September 2018, Lazarus Group managed to hack and steal over half a billion dollars in cryptocurrencies, primarily from Japanese and South Korean exchanges. According to the Associated Press , an unpublished United Nations report estimated that North Korea’s broader hacking program has garnered the cash-strapped regime up to $2 billion to date.

Per the U.S. Treasury’s allegations, the organizations responsible operate like modern-day privateers on the digital seas, attacking both obvious rivals and targets that only stand out by virtue of their vulnerability, like Bangladesh. Unlike, say, the Russian Federation, whose cyber antagonism has so bedeviled the United States in recent years, North Korea seems to be dependent upon its stable of hackers as a revenue stream and not strictly a means of asymmetric attack on enemies.

North Korea has long been a pariah in the global economic community, with its international trade overwhelmingly dependent on the neighboring People’s Republic of China, according to […]

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