North Korea stole $1.7B from crypto exchanges, and it’s hodling it: Report

Over the past couple of years, hackers from North Korea have invaded cryptocurrency exchanges globally and made away with over $1.7 billion.
The country has been using some of the funds to finance nuclear weapon manufacture but has been hodling most of the reserves.

By now, it’s no secret that North Korea is one of the biggest players in the world of cryptocurrency hacks. What may come as a surprise is the amount of money that Koreans have been stealing over the years. According to one report, hackers in the East Asian country have stolen well over $1.7 billion in cryptocurrencies from exchanges in the U.S, neighboring South Korea, Indonesia, and more.

North Korea has been facing sanctions for the better part of this millennium from major global powers including Russia, Japan, South Korea, Canada, the U.K, and more. Some, like with the U.S, stretch back over six decades. Since 2006, the U.N also passed nearly a dozen restrictions against trading with the country.

The effect has been a deterioration in the country’s economy as global trading partners stayed away from the Asian country. Cryptocurrencies have been a godsend for North Korea. And while some of it has been via legal means such as mining, it has accumulated a vast fortune through hacking.

A report by Newsis media agency revealed that in the past few years, Korean hackers have stolen 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) from exchanges around the world. Some of the money goes to financing some of the weapon programs that the U.N has banned, such as nuclear weapons. However, the report claims that the country hodls a lot of the cryptocurrency it steals.

This hodling has seen Korea accumulate quite a war chest with cryptocurrencies. Take the Bithumb hack of 2018 when the South Korean exchange lost $31 million in digital assets, an incident which U.S authorities have linked to North Korean hackers. At the time, BTC was trading at about $6,600. If the stolen money was in BTC, it’s now worth $189 million, up from the initial $31 million. If it was in some other cryptocurrency, it’s worth more – Dogecoin would be $1.97 billion and Binance Coin would be $915 million.

North Korea hackers keep Kim Jong Un in power

A report by the U.S Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency has recently revealed that the hackers contribute to a much bigger goal than just showcasing their prowess behind the keyboard – they keep the North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un in power.

In its report, the U.S agency revealed that the hackers have been targeting all manner of victims aside from cryptocurrency firms, including central and commercial banks. They steal defense secrets from government agencies, extort money through ransomware and install crypto-mining malware on victims’ devices.

The report stated:

North Korea has conducted cybertheft against financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, potentially stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, probably to fund government priorities, such as its nuclear and missile programs.

The U.S agency puts the collective funds stolen by the hackers at $2.3 billion. They have been behind some of the biggest malware campaigns in recent years including AppleJeus which made away $316 million and Lazarus which stole $275 million.

It’s already difficult enough to fight cybercrime in today’s world, but fighting North Korea’s hackers is a different animal altogether. They are state-trained and protected and with these state resources, they are able to reinvent themselves every time cybersecurity experts discover their tricks.

Jenny Jun, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative told British newspaper The Sun:

The fight against North Korea’s illicit activities is like a whack-a-mole game—cracking down will lead to displacement rather than cause [the regime]to stop or focus on legitimate economic activity.

Related: North Korea increases Monero mining 10-fold to avoid international sanctions

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