If you’re watching the ongoing exchange of tweets between The Donald and Kim Jong-Un with increasing trepidation, you’re far from alone – even if it’s only from the point of view of watching what it’s doing to the markets. The two men trade insults like small boys trading sticker cards in the playground, only with considerably less good will. It certainly makes for ticklish times in world markets, as North Korea does all it can to demonstrate a growing nuclear capability, and the US – or at least the 45th President – vow to “do what has to be done”.
So what’s the impact on Bitcoin? Strangely, the price is rising, when other markets are volatile or dipping. At the same time, both dollar and yen dipped, and the Dow Jones ended down three days in succession. There’s even a school of thought to suggest that the Twitter war is responsible for the uptick. To cite one strange example, on the same day in late September that a North Korean diplomat effectively accused the US of declaring war, the price of Bitcoin rose by $260. A few days later, Donald Trump insisted that diplomatic solutions were a complete waste of time, and the price rose to a day high of $4,470, and despite minor dips, still ended 3% up.
It can’t all be laid at the door of the diplomatic three-ring circus – there are other factors involved, not least Japan’s official licensing of 11 Bitcoin exchanges, cementing its emerging prominence as a cryptocurrency global leader. The uptick is also the inevitable bounce post-China’s ban on Bitcoin exchanges as the Asian territories settle with regard to cryptocurrencies once more.
So what else do we know about North Korea and Bitcoin? Well, we can be fairly certain that there’s a state-sponsored criminal campaign in progress, with a strong indication Pyongyang is funding hackers whose job is to siphon off Bitcoin and other digital currencies from South Korean exchanges to help fund the North Korean regime. It’s thought that over a two-year period (2013 to 2015), approximately $90,000 per month found its way over the border.
Research by FireEye, a company who provide high-level cyber threat intelligence, shows that the attacks were relatively unsophisticated, targeting personal email accounts of digital currency exchange employees. It did, however, bear strong similarities to the 2016 financial industry hacks carried out by Lazarus, a criminal hacking group with links to North Korea. The nature of Bitcoin means that it’s anonymous, but there’s little doubt that the theft is purely to turn the spoils into hard cash.
The markets are likely to remain volatile, especially as military drills continue apace in both Japan and South Korea, and nobody is showing any signs of banning Donald Trump from Twitter any time soon. However, for the cautious investor, digital currencies would seem to currently offer a secure investment. Let’s just hope that a diplomatic solution remains an option.