According to vice.com, the students from the Pyongyang university have been given a crash course in cryptocurrencies (in particular bitcoin) — something that’s never happened before.
It’s the first hard evidence of North Korea’s growing interest in cryptocurrencies and bitcoin. While the course could be a normal opportunity given the current appeal of bitcoin, some experts suggest it’s evidence of a more sinister fascination, related to hacking, theft, and even the avoidance of sanctions.
Earlier in November, Federico Tenga, the Italian founder of bitcoin startup, Chainside, traveled to Pyongyang to teach more than three dozen of the country’s elite students about bitcoin and the blockchain technology that underpins it.
Tenga initially contacted the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the only foreign-funded school in North Korea, proposing a talk about bitcoin at a finance conference organized there. But after President Donald Trump banned U.S. citizens from traveling to North Korea, the university cancelled the conference.
Instead, the school contacted Tenga and invited him to teach the course.
“For sure, it is a weird country,” Tenga said. ”It is almost like going to another planet.”
Tenga spent a week at the the Pyongyang university, during which he gave five 90-minutes lectures to a class of 40 students between the ages of 20 and 25, as well as an extra seminar to faculty members.
The students were well aware of what was happening in the world outside North Korea and they’d heard about bitcoin, they didn’t know how mining and trading worked. Despite their lack of knowledge, Tenga said the students caught on fast.
Tenga said he was only allowed to visit places outside the university with an official from the government — but while inside the school’s walls, he was on his own.
In July, a report from Recorded Future, a security intelligence company backed by the CIA and Google, claimed that bitcoin mining was taking place in North Korea based on monitoring internet traffic coming out of the country.
Despite that report and other claims regarding North Korea’s bitcoin activity, Tenga is skeptical the Hermit Kingdom is mining its own bitcoin — a process which requires a lot of sophisticated and specialized computers. Clearly, North Koreans are interested in the technology, Tenga said, so someone could have been simply running tests but not fully mining the cryptocurrency.
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