North Korean hackers have stolen around $1.2 billion in cryptocurrency and other virtual assets over the past five years, most of which were stolen in 2021 alone.
A report by the Daily Mail cites an investigation of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The officials believe North Korea has turned to cybercrime as a source of foreign currency to support its struggling economy and fund its nuclear program following harsh United Nations sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the tightening of sanctions in 2017, North Korea’s focus on cybercrimes has reportedly made it one of the best in the world at stealing digital assets. The NIS estimates that North Korean state-sponsored hackers have stolen around $1.2 billion in virtual assets worldwide since 2017, including around $626 million this year alone.
Over $78 million of this total was taken from South Korea. The NIS expects North Korean hackers to conduct more cyberattacks in the coming year to steal advanced South Korean technologies and confidential information on the neighbor’s foreign policy and national security.
In February, a panel of United Nations experts said that North Korea was continuing to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions and cryptocurrency firms and exchanges. Earlier this month, senior diplomats from the United States, South Korea, and Japan agreed to increase efforts to curb illegal North Korean cyber activities.
Despite its economic difficulties, North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests this year, which some experts believe is an attempt to modernize its arsenal and boost its leverage in future negotiations with its rivals in order to win sanctions relief and other concessions. It is not uncommon for North Korea to engage in cybercrime as a means of obtaining foreign currency.
In the past, the country has been accused of conducting cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges to steal funds. These attacks have often been sophisticated and well-planned and have often been successful in stealing large sums of money.
The NIS’s estimate of the amount stolen by North Korean hackers over the past five years demonstrates the scale of the problem and the potential threat posed by the country’s cyber activities. It is essential for individuals and organizations to be aware of the risks posed by North Korean hackers and to take appropriate steps to protect themselves against such attacks.
This includes adopting strong cybersecurity measures and being vigilant for signs of suspicious activity. In addition to the risks posed by North Korean hackers, it is also crucial to consider the broader context in which these attacks occur. The country’s reliance on cybercrime as a source of foreign currency is a reflection of the difficult economic situation it faces, which the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of international sanctions have exacerbated.
The findings follow recent reports that vendors on the darknet got at least $140 million in revenue in 2020-2021 by selling hacked data products.