Researchers at cybersecurity firm AlienVault have discovered a computer virus of North Korean origin which infects and hijacks computers in order to mine Monero, a private digital currency which styles itself as “secure, private and untraceable.” Cryptocurrency mining is the resource-intensive process by which computers or “miners” running specific software verify cryptocurrency transactions. In exchange for their computing power, miners are given small amounts of cryptocurrency. In the case of North Korean’s Monero malware, the virus installs mining software on infected computers unbeknownst to their owners or users. The software then secretly mines Monero and sends mining rewards back to a server located at Kim II Sung University in Pyongyang. Researchers are unsure how many computers may be affected.

Similar attacks out of North Korea may follow as United Nations sanctions continue to put economic pressure on the Kim regime. Once mined, Monero can be exchanged for Bitcoin which can then be traded for dollars or other fiat currencies. However, North Korea is not the only source of attackers looking to make money off of stolen computing power. Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky recently identified malware dubbed “Loapi” which also mines Monero on infected Android smartphones. The researchers found that Loapi causes some smartphones to overheat and become physically damaged. To protect against Loapi and similar malware, Kaspersky recommends that smartphone users only install applications from official sources (such as the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store), disable any settings which would allow the installation of applications from unknown sources, and consider installing a reliable smartphone anti-virus program.

These recent cyberattacks come at a time when mainstream financial institutions continue to seriously assess the challenges and opportunities posed by cryptocurrencies and other blockchain-based technologies. Last week JP Morgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, walked back his earlier comments calling Bitcoin a fraud, saying that he regretted making the statement. However, Dimon continued to express skepticism at the future of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies amid potential government regulation. – Scott M. Baird and Norman H. Roos