SEOUL – Two South Koreans have been arrested on charges of stealing military secrets on behalf of a suspected North Korean spy agent who paid them in cryptocurrency, police said Thursday.
A 38-year-old executive at a cyber-currency firm met the agent six years ago through an online cryptocurrency community and has been given $600,000 worth of cryptocurrency to work for him since February last year, the South Korean National Police said. Together, the director and the agent attempted to hack into the South Korean military’s communications system, but failed.
However, they managed to recruit a 29-year-old South Korean army officer, who helped steal classified military data by taking photos with a smartphone, police said. Police did not provide details of the stolen data, but said the agent was paid about $38,000 in cryptocurrency by the agent.
The two South Koreans were arrested earlier this month and are now facing criminal charges for violating the country’s National Security Act. South Korean police said they were unable to arrest the agent, who was operating from abroad, but said they believed he was a hacker working for the North Korean government.
South and North Korea have been technically at war since 1950. For decades, the two Koreas have been conducting intelligence and counterintelligence campaigns. In recent years, the war has increasingly shifted to cyberspace.
North Korea leads an army of hackers trained to disrupt hostile computer networks and steal cash and sensitive data. With its trade crippled by both the pandemic and United Nations sanctions, North Korea is increasingly relying on cyberattacks targeting cryptocurrency and blockchain platforms, according to US and South Korean intelligence agencies.
On Wednesday, US cybersecurity firm Symantec said a North Korean-affiliated hacker group known as Stonefly recently hacked into a tech company with military ties.
“Virtually all the technologies it appears to be interested in have both military and civilian uses, and some may have applications in advanced weapons development,” said Symantec, describing the hacker group’s activities in a blog post.
Earlier this month, the United States government blamed another North Korean hacking group known as Lazarus for a $620 million cryptocurrency heist.
Despite its economic difficulties, North Korea has a strong program for developing nuclear weapons and missiles. On Monday, North Korea held a military parade where its leader, Kim Jong-un, watched the newly developed missiles and pledged to increase its nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible speed.”