Thawing tensions on the Korean Peninsula faced a fresh test Monday when Seoul accused its northern neighbor of hacking cryptocurrency exchanges, stealing bitcoin and other digital currency worth millions of dollars.
The claim comes as athletes from the North prepare to join their southern counterparts to compete as one team in the at the Winter Olympics Friday, hosted by South Korea.
"North Korea sent emails that could hack into cryptocurrency exchanges and their customers’ private information and stole (cryptocurrency) worth billions of won,” Kim Byung-kee, a member of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee, said Monday, Reuters reported.
Pyongyang is still trying to hack into the cryptocurrency exchanges, Kim said, but the South was doing its best to prevent further infiltration.
South Korea is one of the world’s most active bitcoin trading hubs.
North Korea has recently turned to cryptocurrencies to circumvent fresh sanctions imposed by the international community in response to the regime’s nuclear missile tests.
Security firm Recorded Future released a report January claiming that a team of North Korean hackers, known as Lazarus Group, had targeted South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges throughout 2017.
Security companies have cited Lazarus as the group also behind the devastating WannaCry ransomware attack that crippled businesses and organizations across the globe last year. The U.S. government refers to the group as Hidden Cobra.
Lazarus is reported to have used phishing emails tied to the Winter Olympics to trick users into clicking on malicious links that download corrupted files and install malware.
The emails specifically targeted users of the Hangul Word Processor, a Korean-language computer program widely used in South Korea.
Lazarus is also accused of conducting a 2013 attack on South Korean television stations, the U.S. Sony Pictures hack in 2014, and the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank the same year.
North and South Korean athletes will march under a unified flag during the opening Olympics ceremony, with athletes from both countries playing in the same women’s hockey team.
South Korea is calling the Olympics the Peace Games, however the U.S. is working to undermine any burgeoning rapprochement.
Mike Pence will reportedly call North Korea’s participation in the Olympics a “charade” during his trip to the Games. The vice president will be accompanied to the opening ceremony by the father of the late Otto Warmbier, an American student jailed and beaten in North Korea.
Cover image: Undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 13, 2016 that shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting Farm No. 1116 under KPA Unit 810 at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)