North Korean hackers stole around $400 million worth of cryptocurrency through cyberattacks on digital currency outlets last year, blockchain data platform Chainalysis said Thursday.
Pyongyang is under multiple international sanctions for its atomic bomb and ballistic missile developments, but analysts say the North has also bolstered its cyber capabilities with an army of thousands of well-trained hackers extracting funds to fund the programs. state armament.
In 2021, hackers launched seven attacks on crypto platforms, mining assets from “internet-connected ‘hot’ wallets” and transferring them to accounts controlled by North Korea, according to Chainalysis.
“Once North Korea obtained custody of the funds, it began a thorough laundering process to conceal and cash out,” Chainalysis said in a report posted on its website.
“These complex tactics and techniques have led many security researchers to characterize Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) cyber actors as advanced persistent threats.”
The report highlighted the rise of the Lazarus group, which rose to notoriety in 2014 when it was accused of hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment in revenge for “The Interview,” a satirical film that poked fun at leader Kim. Jong Un.
“Since 2018, the group has stolen and laundered massive sums of virtual currencies each year, typically over $200 million.”
Hackers also target a wide variety of cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin, the world’s largest digital currency, accounting for only a quarter of stolen assets.
“The growing variety of stolen cryptocurrencies has necessarily increased the complexity of the DPRK’s cryptocurrency laundering operation,” Chainalysis said.
North Korea’s cyber program dates back to at least the mid-1990s, but has since morphed into a 6,000-man cyber warfare unit, known as Office 121, which operates from multiple countries, including the Belarus, China, India, Malaysia and Russia, according to a 2020 US military report.
The United States this week imposed new sanctions on North Korea following what Pyongyang said were hypersonic missile tests on January 5 and 11.
On Friday, South Korean and Japanese officials said North Korea fired an unidentified projectile eastward in its third suspected weapons test in just over a week.
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