Under any other circumstance, the news that a university was giving obligatory cryptocurrency courses would be met with positive reviews.
However, when that university is a state university of one of the biggest sponsors of state hacking, there is more reason to worry.
According to a Vice news article, there are many that are concerned that the university could be training students to join the growing North Korean cyber army.
There have been a number of reports of North Korean hackers trying to breach cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea and abroad. North Korean hackers are also purported to be behind the highly effective “Lazarus Group”.
Eyes on Bitcoin
With increasing sanction pressure on the Hermit kingdom, the government has had to look for other ways in order to keep funding afloat. Previously, the hackers such as the Lazarus group have tried to breach databases or attack financial institutions.
With something as lucrative as a Bitcoin, the regime has jumped on board the cryptocurrency train. The university courses are the first pieces of evidence that they view it as a lucrative new cash cow.
According to Priscilla Moriuchi, who is the director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, said the following:
There should be no mistaking this course as a benevolent academic exchange; everything in North Korea is carefully evaluated and managed by the regime
The courses were been taught by Frederico Tenga who is the Italian founder of Chainside. He went to the university in Pyongyang to give lectures to about 40 students on the basics of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
Tenga said that he gave the speech to the students who ranged in age from about 20-25 years. They all spoke excellent English and were similarly aware of what was going on in the world outside.
Tenga said that while outside of the University walls, he had to be monitored by a government official. However, while in the university he was free to move around unaccompanied.
He went on to say that although they did not know too much about the basics of Bitcoin to start, they were able to catch on pretty quickly and were fast learners.
North Korean Miners
There have been reports that North Korea was attempting to cash in on the Bitcoin mining business. This was done by monitoring the internet activity that was emanating from the country over a period of time.
Yet, Tenga was not too certain of these assertions. He claimed that anyone who was running a “full node” while in North Korea could appear as if they were mining the coins. This is something that is likely as more North Koreans are interested in the technology.
Tenga was also quite surprised at the fact that he could access external sites without the use of a VPN. However, he was quite sceptical as to whether his activity was being monitored or not.
The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology has been accused of training an army of state hackers. This is something that the school has no doubt denied on numerous occasions.
Our teaching is intended to assist the DPRK by building capacity that enables effective development and benefits the people of the DPRK
Whether the university had trained state hackers cannot be proven. Yet, the skills required to hack Sony pictures or the Bangladeshi central bank could not have been picked up at home.
Now that the university is offering classes in cryptocurrencies, exchanges and Bitcoin developers need to keep a closer eye on their private keys and code.