Crypto Crimes Pay for North Korea: UN Claims Hacks, Attacks Fuel 50% of Foreign Currency Gains

March 21, 2024

The United Nations Security Council has shed light on an alarming trend: North Korea has a lucrative business involving cryptocurrency hacks and attacks which is a central pillar of its economic strategy. It contributes to roughly half of its foreign currency revenues. This clandestine operation has reportedly netted the hermit country billions of dollars, with the funds suspected to be funneled into its contentious weapons programs, intensifying international apprehensions about global security. 

The United Nations Security Council unveiled the conclusions of a comprehensive investigation conducted by a panel of experts into the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea this Wednesday. The report exposed a significant series of cyber intrusions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), highlighting a total of 58 suspected cyberattacks targeting cryptocurrency-related firms over a span from 2017 to 2023.

The UNSC also disclosed that these illicit activities have led to a staggering loss of approximately $3 billion. These stolen funds are reportedly being funneled by North Korea to finance around 40% of its development of weapons of mass destruction. 

Highlighting the significant role that these operations play in the country’s economy, the panel noted, “The malicious cyber activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) generate approximately 50% of its foreign currency income and are used to fund its weapons programs,” attributing this insight to information provided by one member state. This alarming connection between cybercrime and the financing of WMD programs underscores the dual threat posed by North Korea’s digital and military strategies on international peace and security.

The situation’s gravity was further underscored by an official from the South Korean National Intelligence Service, who pointed out the alarming implications of North Korea’s cyber heists. He emphasized that the $700 million pilfered in 2022 alone possesses the considerable financial heft required to support the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) projects.

In their 2023 report, blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis revealed the escalating scale of cyber theft attributed to North Korean-linked groups, revealing a staggering $340.4 million in cryptocurrency stolen so far that year. This figure, though significant, marks a decrease from the over $1.65 billion reported in stolen funds in 2022. 

The cumulative total of cryptocurrency theft linked to DPRK groups is now estimated at $3.54 billion, cementing North Korea’s position as a formidable force in the realm of cybercrime. As Chainalysis put it, “DPRK continues to be an incubator for hacking activities and remains one of the largest active threats in the cybercrime landscape.” 

Further, Chainalysis identified that North Korea-linked entities are responsible for 29.7% of the total cryptocurrency stolen via hacks in 2023, underscoring the persistent threat they pose in the digital asset security landscape. North Korea-supported hacker collectives, notably Lazarus and Kimsuky, have been identified as the culprits behind several of the most significant breaches in the cryptocurrency sector. 

Their notorious exploits include a staggering theft of $615 million from the Ronin Bridge, marking one of the largest crypto heists to date. These hackers are believed to be responsible for pilfering $21.9 million in cryptocurrency through attacks on Harmony Protocol. 

To mask their tracks and complicate the tracing of stolen funds, these groups frequently employ cryptocurrency mixers, highlighting their sophisticated methods of operation and the ongoing challenges in combating cybercrime linked to North Korea.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.