According to the US cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, North Korean hackers have stolen an estimated $3 billion worth of cryptocurrency since 2017, with more than half of that amount stolen in the past year. This is equivalent to approximately 5% of North Korea’s economy or 45% of its military budget. Such a sum far exceeds North Korea’s total income from exports, which was only $182 million in 2021.
Recorded Future also noted that North Korean cyber operators initially targeted South Korea for its crypto, before drastically expanding their reach to the rest of the world. As the report states, “State backing allows North Korean threat actors to scale their operations beyond what is possible for traditional cybercriminals.”
In line with this, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently imposed sanctions on crypto mixer Sinbad, alleging that it facilitated funds laundered for the North Korea-based Lazarus Group. Moreover, a UN report said that cyber attacks were more sophisticated in 2022 than in previous years, making it harder to trace stolen funds.
Blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis also added that North Korea-linked hackers have been moving funds through crypto mixers such as Tornado Cash and Sinbad at a much higher rate than other criminal groups. In conclusion, the incident serves to highlight the growing sophistication of North Korea’s activities in the cryptocurrency industry.