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North Korea-linked hackers stole $626 million in virtual assets in 2022

North Korea-linked threat actors have stolen an estimated $1.2 billion worth of cryptocurrency and other virtual assets in the past five years.

South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, estimated that North Korea-linked threat actors have stolen an estimated 1.5 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in cryptocurrency and other virtual assets in the past five years.

According to the spy agency, more than half the crypto assets (about 800 billion won ($626 million)) have been stolen this year alone, reported the Associated Press.

The Government of Pyongyang focuses on crypto hacking to fund its military program following harsh U.N. sanctions.

“South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said North Korea’s capacity to steal digital assets is considered among the best in the world because of the country’s focus on cybercrimes since U.N. economic sanctions were toughened in 2017 in response to its nuclear and missile tests.” reported the AP agency.

North Korea cannot export its products due to the U.N. sanctions imposed in 2016 and 1017, and the impact on its economy is dramatic.

The NIS added that more than 100 billion won ($78 million) of the total stolen funds came from South Korea.

Cyber security and intelligence experts believe that attacks aimed at the cryptocurrency industry will continue to increase next year. National Intelligence Service experts believe that North Korea-linked APT groups will focus on the theft of South Korean technologies and confidential information on South Korean foreign policy and national security.

Data published by the National Intelligence Service agency confirms a report published by South Korean media outlet Chosun early this year that revealed North Korean threat actors have stolen around $1.7 billion (2 trillion won) worth of cryptocurrency from multiple exchanges during the past five years.

According to local media, US federal prosecutors believe that North Korea’s government considers cryptocurrency a long-term investment and it is amassing crypto funds through illegal activities.

In a classified report cited by Chosun, the US National Intelligence Service (DNI) found that North Korea was financing its ‘priority policies’, such as nuclear and missile development, through cybercrime. Government experts noticed that nation-state actors are not immediately cashing out all the stolen crypto to create a crypto fund reserve.

“Citing the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the media reported that all banks in the world are being targeted by North Korea’s cyberattacks. It also reported that North Korea is committing cybercriminals such as stealing defense secrets from major powers, using ransomware to steal funds, hijacking cryptocurrencies, and “laundering” criminal proceeds into cryptocurrencies.” reads a post published by Chosun.

“Then, citing the results of investigations by the United States and the UN Security Council, it was estimated that the Kim Jong-un regime’s fraudulent profits from cyber crimes have already reached $2.3 billion (about 2.7 trillion won).”

The report states that North Korea-linked attacks employed the AppleJeus malware to steal cryptocurrency. According to Bloomberg, multiple versions of Apple Zeus have been used in attacks against entities in 30 countries since 2018, and according to a UN and US investigation, between 2019 and November 2020, North Korean hackers stole $316.4 million in cryptocurrency through this program. 380 billion.

According to Chosun, North Korea’s dependence on cybercrime will increase due to international sanctions that limit the amount of money that North Korea can earn from coal exports to $400 million (about 480 billion won) per year.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, cryptocurrency)

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