It had to happen sooner or later: The two biggest tech stories of 2017–foreign cyber attacks and bitcoin–have come together perfectly in a single story. Namely, it looks like the infamous North Korean hacking outfit, The Lazarus Group, is running a spear-phishing campaign aimed at executives of cryptocurrency companies.
You may remember this gang from previous outrages such as the WannaCry ransomware outbreak, the hacking of Sony, and the $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank. Their latest scam, identified by Secureworks, involves sending emails about a Chief Financial Officer position that contain an infected Microsoft Word document.
As ZDNet reports, clicking on the document triggers a piece of malware that allows the attacker access to the victim’s computer. It’s unclear if any of the targeted executives have fallen for the phish or if the scheme has yielded the Lazarus Group any bitcoins. Let’s hope not–in part because crypto-currency companies know the risk of cyber-threats better than most, and should not be hiring people who click on random Word documents.
More broadly, the idea of North Korea phishing for bitcoin is intriguing because the phenomenon is at once so new and so old. It’s new because countries until very recently didn’t even take bitcoin seriously–and now, as the price of a bitcoin tops $18,000, rogue nations are telling their militaries to go forth and steal it.
At the same time, though, North Korea’s phishing antics can also be seen as a twist on the centuries-old military tactic known as privateering. Once upon a time, this tactic took the form of kings and queens granting letters of marque that allowed privateers to roam the oceans and plunder booty from enemy merchant ships. Today, North Korea is allowing its hackers to operate as digital privateers in search of crypto plunder like bitcoin.
This modern version of privateering is not as exciting as grand naval battles with cannons and cutlasses, but no doubt it’s just as lucrative. Have a good weekend.
Jeff John Roberts
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
Bailing on Blockchain: In theory, it sounds great to create a coalition and build a distributed ledger tool for everyone. The reality is more messy: more than 15 members of the Hyperledger Project recently bailed and/or cut off their funds to the much-hyped blockchain project. This follows a similar break-up at R3, the blockchain-for-banks consortium.
Cutting off Kaspersky: The popular anti-virus product is tangled up with a good part of the US government’s IT systems–a big problem since the software maker is strongly suspected of ties to the Kremlin. The White House has hurried up efforts to cashier Kaspersky with an order banning its use anywhere in the government.
Creepy Keyboards: Key-logging software, which lets a third party record what you type, is a popular tool among spies and hackers–it’s not something you want pre-installed on your new computer. Yet that’s what HP did with hundreds of lap-top models. A security researcher discovered that anyone with administrative privileges could activate it. HP is working on a fix.
Easy there, Anderson: The normally bland Twitter account of CNN host Anderson Cooper spat out a string of abuse at Donald Trump in a tweet this week. The network portrayed it as a hack, pointing out that Anderson was in a different city from where the tweet was sent–the latest is that Anderson’s aide left a phone with the Twitter account unattended at the gym.
Feds Nail Mirai Miscreants: Remember that nasty botnet composed of hijacked IoT devices that took down servers across the east cost last year? Well, it turns out Brian Krebs was right: a Rutgers student running a Minecraft scam was responsible for the botnet havoc. The student and two others pled guilty and say they’re sorry.
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“If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you,” Palihapitiya advised his audience. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, [but] misinformation, mistruth.”
— Facebook’s former head of user growth, Chamath Palihapitiya, recently offered a contrite and frightening account of what the company has built. David Meyer has a nice summary of his remarks.
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ONE MORE THING
The best holiday movie ever? It’s decided. Wonderful holiday classics include It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, but some (including me) believe the best of the bunch is a little action film called Die Hard. Objectors have claimed Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie but now a prominent head of state has settled the question. Thanks, Justin Trudeau, and Ho ho ho!