Decentralized Crypto In Centralized Korea?

Dominik Olech
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Most of the news concerning cryptocurrency in Korea applies to South Korea. And no wonder, since this country is one of the leading players in this industry. But its northern neighbor also has something to add in the matter.

North Korea is a curious case among other countries around the world. It’s a relic of the old days, incompatible with modern society, with evidence of human rights violations. And its foreign policy based on threats don’t work well for the opinion about it. 

Despite all this, the North Korean government is making every effort to present this country as modern and open to the world. One of such actions is upcoming Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference, mentioned in our last Weekly Update. But at the same time, the country is being accused of a crypto hack.

Decentralized assets in a centralized country

At first, cryptocurrency seems to be strongly incompatible with North Korea. The very primary difference lays in its beliefs. Cryptocurrencies use blockchain technology to create a decentralized economic system. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has an opposite vision, with the centrally planned system.

Moreover, the isolationist approach towards the other nations isn’t conducive to organize international meetings in this country. And yet, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference is to take place in the North Korean capital city, Pyongyang. And not for the first time, because the event announced for February 2020 is already the second one.. The previous conference was held from April 18th to 25th this year.

Crypto festival in Pyongyang

So, what Kim Jong-un and his Workers’ Party of Korea are preparing for crypto enthusiasts? And more importantly, who among us will be permitted to take part in this event?

All available information about North Korean “Cryptocon” comes from its official website. As we may read there, the previous conference was a great success, where experts from crypto industry “shared their knowledge and vision, established long lasting connections, discussed business opportunities and signed contracts in the field of Information Technology.”

For the incoming event organizers are preparing a similar schedule. The program consists, apart from conference itself, a Pyongyang tour and a day in a luxury ski resort. However, there is no information available about the specific topics planned to be discussed. No peculiar names (coins, companies or individuals) haven’t been mentioned either. But the FAQ section ensures that you will be able to access the Internet and bring your smartphone. Apparently, even official North Korean media considers such things as phenomena. 

Although the conference is open for “professionals and companies,” not everyone is allowed to attend. People from South Korea, Japan, or Israel won’t be able to take part in this event. Sadly, journalists are also excluded “to preserve the confidentiality of the participants.”After all, the Party doesn’t want any images showing the reality of life in North Korea.

Touristic blockchain?

But crypto conferences aren’t the only approach to crypto which DPRK has made within the last years. In April 2018, Koryo Tours, a North Korean travel agency, unexpectedly announced issuing own cryptocurrency. Named simply as Koryocoin, it supposed to be designated for tourists. 

“Koryo” is the name of an old Korean kingdom, which established the first contact with the Middle East. The modern name of Korea comes precisely from this word. So, everything seemed strange but fine in its own, North Korean way.

However, at the end of the announcement, Koryo Tours point at the date of the press release: April 1st. That’s right – Koryocoin was, in the end, nothing more but a Prima Aprilis prank. The funniest thing is that North Korean reality is so strange and bizarre (at least to us, raised in western culture) that many people probably believe in the existence of this coin. After all, we couldn’t verify this news on our own by traveling there.

Nevertheless, North Korea is still going to release its own coin. As Vice recently reported, the currency is still in early development. All information comes from the North Korean representative, Alejandro Cao de Benos. According to him, the coin will be “more like bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.” We still don’t know the name of announced crypto, but CoinDesk speculate that its primary goal is to get around international sanctions.

Crypto for weapons

But we wish for Koryocoin to be the only attempt in the crypto world made by North Korea. Sadly, the rest of the story concerns more hostile uses of blockchain technology. According to the United Nations report quoted by Reuters, DPRK managed to steal approximately $2 billion in cyber attacks over various cryptocurrency exchanges.

U.N. notices that North Korea is improving their tactics, making them “increasingly sophisticated,” and harder to trace down. Main targets of those attacks are cryptocurrency exchanges and miners. Funds acquired that way are later successfully laundered in cyberspace.

In the meantime, the United States sanctioned three hackers group apparently linked to North Korea. Lazarus Group, Bluenoroff and Andariel are presumed to be responsible for many cyberattacks through the last few years – for example, the data leak from the Sony Pictures in 2014.

Stolen money might be used to finance weapon research, which pose a serious threat to the stability of the world. Despite the international sanctions imposed on North Korea, its government keeps enhancing its nuclear and missile programs. Sadly for our industry, the crypto world may contribute to this situation.

In the light of such events, Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference doesn’t seem a sign of change in North Korea. It’s more like a propaganda show made to present DPRK as a modern country, advanced in trendy technologies. We may only wonder what “blockchain specialists” will appear in Pyongyang in February – but excluding journalist successfully cut our chances to find out.

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