North Korean hackers are believed to be responsible for stealing tens of billions of won worth of cryptocurrency from a South Korean exchange last year (US$1=W1,091).

The National Intelligence Service on Monday told the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee that the North is also believed to be behind the recent theft of US$532 million worth of cryptocurrency from Japan's Coincheck exchange, one of the biggest cyberheists to date.

Coincheck president Koichiro Wada (left) and COO Yusuke Otsuka bow in apology at a press conference in Tokyo on Jan. 26. /AP-Yonhap

The NIS was confirming international suspicions that North Korea is using Bitcoin to get its hands on hard currency amid international sanctions aimed at strangling off its cash flow.

It said North Korean hackers obtained the passwords and trading records of cryptocurrency investors last year and hacked the computer systems of the cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea with malicious codes concealed in bogus job application forms.

They were able to bypass a vaccine developed by a prominent South Korean software company. The NIS said the exchange lost around W26 billion in that attack.

"North Korean hackers continue to launch attacks by sending e-mails to South Korean intelligence institutions, defense product manufacturers and civic groups helping North Korean defectors," a lawmaker on the committee quoted an NIS official as saying.
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