Hackers sponsored by the North Korean government have stolen over $1 billion worth of digital assets since 2017.
South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, has revealed that North Korean hackers have stolen an estimated 1.5 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in crypto assets over the past five years, according to an AP News report.
More than half of that tally, or about 800 billion won ($626 million), have been stolen so far this year. Moreover, more than 100 billion won ($78 million) of the total came from South Korea.
The NIS has claimed that North Korea’s focus on cybercrime has made the country among the best in the world when it comes to stealing crypto. The country has specifically turned to cybercrimes since 2017 after U.N. economic sanctions were toughened in response to its nuclear and missile tests.
The AP report noted that North Korea is using the stolen crypto assets to fund its nuclear program and support its fragile economy which has constantly shrunk over the past couple of years amid harsh U.N. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NIS expects North Korean hackers to further increase their illicit cyber activities in 2023 to steal advanced South Korean technologies and confidential information on South Korean foreign policy and national security.
Earlier this month, Japan, South Korea, and the United States announced new sanctions on North Korean officials connected to the country’s weapons program. The move came as North Korea has carried out a record number of missile tests this year despite its economic difficulties.
The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on crypto mixer Tornado Cash for its alleged role in money laundering operations in early August.
At the time, the department alleged that the mixing service has been used to launder more than $7 billion worth of crypto since 2019, including laundering around $1 billion for the North Korea-sponsored cyber criminals, the Lazarus Group.
As reported, the North Korean Lazarus group of hackers is behind the hack of Axie Infinity’s Ronin blockchain that saw hackers make off with about $625 million worth of Ethereum and USDC in one of the largest crypto hacks of all time.
North Korea has repeatedly denied that it seeks to hack crypto and has refuted accusations surrounding the Lazarus group, which has previously been accused of masterminding the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures and the 2017 Wannacry ransomware attacks.