North Korea’s hacker army launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms in 2021 that threatened global players and netted the reclusive state nearly $400 million in digital assets , according to a report.
Transportation marked a 40% increase over the previous year, according to the report by blockchain research firm Chainalysis published on Thursday, adding that the attacks mainly targeted investment firms and centralized exchanges.
“These behaviors, taken together, paint a picture of a nation that supports large-scale cryptocurrency-enabled crime,” he said.
The Chainalysis findings underscore leader Kim Jong Un’s reliance on state-backed hackers. The United States and the United Nations Security Council have said the country’s cybercrimes help fund North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and support an economy hobbled by global sanctions over atomic bomb testing and long-range missiles.
The amount reported by the research group is equivalent to about 1.5% of North Korea’s economy in 2020 and would likely represent more than 10% of its annual military budget. The money North Korea makes from cybercrime helps it “fund government priorities, such as its nuclear and missile program,” the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in an unclassified report in 2021. .
Chainalysis said North Korea used phishing lures, code exploits, malware and advanced social engineering to siphon off funds. “Once North Korea obtained custody of the funds, it began a thorough laundering process to conceal and remove its money.”
North Korea is stealing a growing variety of cryptocurrencies, according to the report. This has increased the complexity of its money laundering operations, which have become more cautious with each passing year, he added.
The report comes as North Korea has stepped up pressure on sanctions, saying in a Friday dispatch from its Foreign Ministry that it would trigger “a stronger and more certain reaction” if the United States tried to impose more economic pressure.
After North Korea conducted two tests this month of a new hypersonic missile system designed to use high speeds and maneuverability to evade US interceptors, the US Treasury Department designated five North Koreans living in abroad – one in Russia and four in China – for helping the country’s nuclear program. weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Kim has shown little interest in calls by the United States to resume nuclear disarmament talks that have stalled for nearly three years. The Biden administration has indicated it may offer financial rewards in exchange for verifiable disarmament measures.
The North Korean regime has tried to fill its coffers through two main avenues of evading sanctions, the United States and the United Nations said. The first is cybercrime. The other is the ship-to-ship transfer of cargo such as coal: a North Korean ship transfers its cargo to another ship, or the other way around, and both ships usually try to conceal their identities.
At present, North Korea has more than 6,000 members in its cyber warfare guidance unit, also known as Office 121, according to assessments in unclassified US and South Korean defense reports. .
The US government is pursuing alleged North Korean agents, filing criminal complaints against people it says illegally obtained confidential data from Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. in 2014 and stole $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank in 2016. North Korea has denied any involvement in these hacks.
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