In 2021, North Korean hackers stole about $400 million in bitcoin, making it one of the most profitable years to date for cybercriminals in the country’s severely confined society, according to a new analysis published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
According to research from Chainalysis, a company that records cryptocurrency assaults, hackers conducted at least seven separate attacks last year, mainly targeting financial companies and centralized exchanges using a range of strategies, including phishing, malware, and social engineering. The attackers sought to get access to organizations’ “hot” wallets – digital wallets that are linked to the internet – and then transfer payments into accounts controlled by the DPRK, according to the report.
They are the most recent sign that the highly sanctioned government depends on a network of hackers to help finance its domestic projects while being subjected to international sanctions. According to a classified United Nations, the leadership of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was previously accused of conducting “operations against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses” to pay for weapons and keep the country’s economy afloat study.
According to the US Justice Department, three North Koreans were accused in February of plotting to steal more than $1.3 billion from banks and businesses throughout the globe and executing cryptocurrency heists on digital platforms.
TRM Labs analyst Nick Carlsen said that North Korea had been effectively shut off from the global financial system due to a long-running sanctions campaign by the United States and its international allies. According to the report, they have gone to the digital battlefield to steal cryptocurrency in what amounts to a “bank robbery at the speed of the internet,” according to the report. The proceeds will support weapons development, nuclear proliferation, and other disruptive operations.
North Korea’s cyber activities have profited from the rise in the value of cryptocurrencies in recent months. The surge in cryptocurrency values and use has usually made digital assets more appealing to malevolent actors, resulting in a slew of high-profile crypto heists expected to take place in the year 2021.
According to Chainalysis, the Lazarus Outfit, a hacker group with ties to North Korea tied to several other events, including the Sony Pictures breach, was responsible for the vast majority of thefts last year, according to the company. The United States has imposed sanctions on the group.
In practice, there is nothing that the United States or other nations can do to oppose North Korea’s crypto hacking operations beyond from imposing sanctions and implementing defensive cybersecurity measures since the criminals involved have little chance of being deported.
In addition, as the cryptocurrency industry expands in popularity, “we are likely to see increased interest from North Korea is targeting crypto enterprises that have just started and are putting in place cyber defenses and anti-money laundering measures,” according to Carlsen.