• Reuters, Kyodo


South Korea’s national spy agency told a parliamentary committee it was possible North Korean hackers broke into the Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc. to steal $520 million worth of digital coins, a source familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

“It’s a possibility that North Korea could be behind the theft,” said the source, who had knowledge of Intelligence Committee proceedings.

The person, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, added that the virtual coin market remains a likely target for North Korean hackers due to its sheer size and light regulation, but there was no hard evidence North Koreans were behind the theft.

The source echoed an earlier report by South Korea’s Channel A news that said North Korean hackers had probably conducted the heist.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) told South Korea’s parliament Monday that North Korea’s theft of virtual currency from its rival to the South last year was on the scale of tens of millions of dollars, according to parliamentary sources.

These sources said the NIS had also briefed the National Assembly that it is investigating whether North Korea was behind the Coincheck hack of Jan. 26.

The NIS said tens of billions of won in cryptocurrency were stolen from South Korea cryptocurrency exchanges last year through North Korean cyberattacks, which partly involved the sending of hacking emails to members of the exchanges.

The South’s Yonhap news agency reported in December that the NIS had secured evidence that North Korea was involved in stealing the personal information of some 30,000 people from Bithumb, South Korea’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, back in June, as well as robbing virtual money at Coinus, another local exchange, in September.

The NIS reportedly confirmed that the same code used by Lazarus, a group accused of being behind the 2014 Sony hack, was used in those cases.

About 3 million South Koreans are estimated to have invested in cryptocurrencies and the country is home to one of the world’s biggest private bitcoin exchanges.

On Jan. 30, South Korea began a real-name trading system for cryptocurrencies, banning the use of anonymous bank accounts in transactions to prevent virtual coins from being misused.

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