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Report: North Korea stole $400M in crypto last year

Report: North Korea stole $400M in crypto last year

Last updated 19th Jan 2022

In as many as ten attacks on crypto platforms, North Korea extracted nearly $400 million worth of digital assets last year. This is the biggest amount ever according to a new report by blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis, cited by Reuters. Chainalysis stated in the report, released on January 13:

From 2020 to 2021, the number of North Korean-linked hacks jumped from four to seven, and the value extracted from these hacks grew by 40%. Once North Korea gained custody of the funds, they began a careful laundering process to cover up and cash out.

Country uses funds to support nuclear programs

According to a UN panel of experts that monitors sanctions on the Asian country, it is using stolen funds to finance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs to bypass the sanctions. North Korea has consistently denied allegations of hacking.

In 2021, the US charged North Korean computer programmers working for their government with an extensive hacking spree. Allegedly, they intended to steal at least $1.3 billion in fiat and cryptocurrency. Their attacks impacted all sorts of establishments, from Hollywood movie studios to banks.

Investment firms and exchanges hardest hit

According to Chainalysis, the main targets of the hacks were investment companies and centralized exchanges. One such exchange, Liquid.com, announced there had been a breach in August last year, where hackers had gained access to some of the cryptocurrency wallets.

Mixed means of attack

Cybercriminals use things like code exploits, phishing lures, advanced social engineering, and malware to steal funds from ‘hot’ wallets and send them to addresses in North Korea. Quite a number of last year’s attacks have been attributed to the US-sanctioned Lazarus Group, said to be controlled by North Korea’s main intelligence bureau.

North Korea stepping up money laundering efforts

The communist country seems to be stepping up efforts to launder stolen cryptocurrency by using a higher number of mixers. These are pieces of software that collect and mix up cryptocurrencies from thousands of addresses.

The report adds that $170 million in old, unlaundered cryptocurrency holdings from almost 50 hacks has been identified. The hacks took place between 2017 and 2021. While Chainalysis doesn’t know why the hackers are holding on to these funds, they assume they’re hoping to cash out after interest in the case is lost as per statutory limitations.

The analysts conclude that the fact North Korea has been holding on to these funds for so long is telling of the nature of its plan: careful as opposed to hasty.

Daniela Kirova

Daniela Kirova

Daniela is a writer at Bankless Times, covering the latest news on the cryptocurrency market and blockchain industry. She has over 15 years of experience as a writer, having ghostwritten for several online publications in the financial sector.