North Korea Scale-Up Monero Mining Activity

The second research report from threat intelligence agency Recorded Future highlights that North Korea have scaled up their Monero mining activity. Recorded Future foresee other “isolated nations” turning to cryptocurrencies for revenue generation.

Quick take;

  • A research report from a threat intelligence agency highlights that North Korea is using crypto mining to generate revenue and circumvent sanctions
  • North Korea has scaled up its Monero mining activity roughly tenfold since 2017

Research from Recorded Future, a threat intelligence company, highlights that North Korea has been using cryptocurrency mining as one of several methods to generate revenue and circumvent sanctions. The research found cryptocurrency activity stemming from North Korea for the Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Monero networks.

The research describes that such experimentation with technologies is being carried out by the North Korean military and political elite. The number of internet users is estimated to be limited to just a few dozen families. The patterns of times that correspond with internet activity indicate that North Korea’s internet use is a professional activity which is a “critical tool for revenue generation”.

North Korea Monero Mining Scales Since Previous Report

The report details that Bitcoin mining is being carried out on a low-scale. However, Recorded Future observed a tenfold increase in Monero mining activity since their previous North Korea report in July 2017

The privacy features of the Monero network would be a natural fit for an entity who may wish to send transactions undetected. In terms of Bitcoin mining, the Recorded Future team foresee this activity remaining limited to a small number of rigs. Given the difficulty of acquiring Bitcoin mining rigs for current miners, let alone a country facing sanctions, this assessment would be logical. Given that Monero can be mined by non-specialized chips such as CPUs and GPUs, it makes it more likely that such mining activity can be scaled.

“This particular [Bitcoin] mining effort is likely still small scale and limited to just a few machines… However, we believe that these two factors — anonymity and the ability to be mined by non-specialized machines — likely make Monero more attractive than Bitcoin to North Korean users.”

Hash rate and mining rigs models are not specified due to all mining activity being proxied through one IP address. According to the report, North Korea’s involvement in cryptocurrencies extends far beyond mining. Recorded Future presents several cases of cryptojacking, exchange hacks, and scams with evidence that points to North Korea as the culprit.

Other Nations to Follow Suit?

“We believe that we will begin to see other isolated nations use some of the same criminal and non-criminal techniques leveraged by North Korea to generate revenue and evade their own sanctions.”

The Recorded Future team foresees other nations utilizing cryptocurrency technology to circumvent sanctions and generate revenue. Iran is specifically noted given the development in their crypto mining industry in 2019.

Iran legalized crypto mining as an industry in August. Other nations noted in the report include Venezuela and Syria.  Reports of the Venezuelan’s government involvement in Bitcoin mining span back to 2017. Several sources have reported that the Venezuelan government and corrupt authorities have been seizing mining rigs for their own use.