According to a new report by Chainalysis, North Korean hackers stole at least $400 million in digital assets in at least seven cyber heists on cryptocurrency platforms last year. According to the inquiry, cyber-criminals in the so-called “Hermit Kingdom” had one of their most successful years on record in 2021, with the value of stolen bitcoin increasing by 40% from 2020 to 2021. Ether accounted for up to 58 percent of the stolen cryptocurrency, with Bitcoin accounting for only 20% of the total.
Altcoins or ERC-20 tokens, which are blockchain-based assets that run on the Ethereum platform, accounted for the remaining 22%. Investment businesses and controlled exchanges were the primary targets. Using a complex arsenal of phishing lures, code exploits, malware, and advanced social engineering to steal cryptocurrencies from the companies’ online wallets and deposit them into addresses associated with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). To hide their tracks, the monies were transferred into other cryptocurrencies and mixed into other wallets once they were secured. Eventually, utilizing crypto-to-fiat exchanges situated in Asia, the laundered bitcoin transformed into “conventional” cash.
The hackers’ exact identities are unknown, but Chainalysis believes many of the recent attacks carried out by the Lazarus Group, a cybercrime organization with strong ties to Kim Jong-North UN’s Korean leadership, according to US intelligence. The Lazarus Group is considered to have begun operating around 2010, but they rose to prominence in 2014 when they hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. The hackers obtained personal information from Sony Pictures employees and requested that the studio pull The Interview, a 2014 comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen about a conspiracy to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korea is now hoarding a large quantity of cryptocurrency, valued at roughly $170 million, according to the Chainalysis analysis. It is unclear why they are holding on to the cash, but the report’s author believes it demonstrates that this is not just a hasty heist by renegade criminals, but also a well-planned and executed scheme. “Taken together, these actions depict a picture of a country that encourages cryptocurrency-enabled criminality on a vast scale.” “North Korea’s regime has solidified itself as an advanced persistent danger to the cryptocurrency business in 2021, whether through the Lazarus Group or other criminal syndicates,” Chainalysis wrote in a blog post.
The DPRK is increasingly turning to cryptocurrencies to fund its costly nuclear and missile development projects, which are hammered by international sanctions. North Korea amassed $316.4 million in cryptocurrency breaches from 2019 to November 2020, according to a panel of specialists who addressed the UN Security Council in 2021, part of which would go toward constructing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Finding out where the proceeds from last year’s heists will wind up will be a difficult endeavor, but it is unlikely to spend on NFTs.