The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun is reporting that North Korea has been responsible for ‘cyber-raids’ which have resulted in cryptocurrency thefts totaling a staggering 2 billion in USD. The data comes from a still-to-be-published UN Security Council report on North Korea’s crypto-hacking.
This report suggests that North Korea’s crypto-hacking operation may be more organized and expansive than previously thought.
North Korea’s Elusive Hacking Team
Asahi Shinbun has retrieved a UN report which alleges that the pariah nation has conducted 35 cyber-attacks on financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges between December 2015 and May 2019. In total, 17 countries were targetted in a state-led effort. It is the UN Security Council’s belief that the cyber-attacks were orchestrated by the Korean People’s Army’s Reconnaissance General Bureau — the intelligence agency of the country’s armed forces.
North Korea’s crypto-obsession has been well-documented. The mysterious Bureau 121 is the country’s leading cyber-warfare agency, managing clandestine operations with six major organizations under its umbrella. The elite team of hackers which focus on cryptocurrencies have gone by many names, such as ‘APT 38,’ as part of the better-known Lazarus group. The cryptocurrency stolen by APT 38 is said to make up a large portion of North Korea’s GDP. Much of the money is funneled into DPRK’s missile program and nuclear developments, as well as funding luxury goods for Kim Jung-Un’s elite circles.
An Extensive Operation
Since 2015, the country’s elite hacking group has stolen some $2B worth of cryptocurrency. There’s also evidence that this group is now moving from attacking cryptocurrency exchanges to focusing on prominent crypto-investors. South Korean cybersecurity firm Cuvepia says that it has uncovered more than 30 cases since April 2018. However, bear in mind that most of these still go unreported. It is still unknown how vast the country’s crypto-reserves really are, but it likely measures in the tens of billions.
With these dealings shrouded in mystery, one should bear in mind that the $2B figure only relates to cryptocurrency thefts. It is also just as likely that the country operates its own mining operations, along with other cyber-attacks on established bank accounts. According to tech intelligence company Recorded Future, North Korea has been mining Bitcoin since at least May 2017. It is also known for breaking into South Korean computer systems and leveraging them for covert mining operations.
Despite relatively friendlier relations between North Korea and the United States as of late, this has not seemed to deter the country from engaging in these criminal activities.
Do you believe that the $2B figure is a conservative estimate for how much North Korea has stolen in its cryptocurrency-related thefts? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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