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US court orders freezing of 279 crypto accounts tied to North Korea

us-court-orders-freezing-of-279-crypto-accounts-tied-to-north-korea
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US court orders freezing of 279 crypto accounts tied to North Korea

A US district court in Columbia has ordered the seizure of 279 crypto accounts linked to North Korean operatives.

According to a May 10 report, Justice Timothy Kelly has ruled that the accounts be frozen and handed over to the U.S. due to alleged connections to North Korean crypto thefts. The specific monetary amount involved in the case remains undisclosed. 

The ruling stems from an Aug. 2020 case filed by the U.S. government. The case involved  North Korean-linked entities transferring illicit crypto funds “to exchanges outside the United States or to unhosted wallets in foreign conspirators’ control.”

Initially, the case targeted 280 accounts, but one of the virtual accounts was dropped two years after filing.

The money laundering operation involved hiding the origins of the stolen cryptocurrencies and subsequently converting them to fiat currency, allowing North Korea to bypass sanctions.

“The U.S. has demonstrated little success in either deterrence or recovery in the crypto theft space,” said Dennis Desmond, a lecturer in cybersecurity at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

According to Desmond,  “meaningful countermeasures” against North Korean operatives operating outside the traditional system are challenging.

The recent ruling also ordered 134 virtual wallets to be seized in connection with two cryptocurrency exchange hacks in 2019. The perpetrators stole over $270,00 from one of the said platforms and obscured the funds via a series of transactions involving other exchanges via a process dubbed as “chain hopping.”

Chain hopping involves laundering illicit funds by converting them to different types of cryptocurrencies, using falsified KYC information, and employing VPNs to hide locations. Per court documents, many of the IP addresses involved in this process were the same as those used in prior heists by North Korean attackers.

The recent development follows a March ruling that saw Justice Kelly order the seizure of 145 crypto accounts involved in laundering stolen funds from four crypto exchanges between 2018 and 2019.

Approximately $330 million in funds were lost to the attackers. The biggest attack saw $250 million stolen from a single platform.

North Korean hackers were responsible for $430 million in crypto losses in 2023 alone. A March United Nations report highlighted that the nation generated around 40% of its revenue to fund weapon development via these cyberattacks.

Responding to these developments, the government has increased scrutiny over the crypto sector and cracked down on crypto mixing services.