March 27, 2024
Crypto Warfare: North Korean Hackers Net Massive $600 Million Haul in 2023
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Crypto Warfare: North Korean Hackers Net Massive $600 Million Haul in 2023

Blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs has revealed that groups associated with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) were responsible for approximately one-third of all cryptocurrency stolen through hacks in 2023. In a report released on January 5, TRM Labs estimated that North Korean hackers potentially pilfered up to $700 million in cryptocurrency throughout the year, with $600 million confirmed by its research. This marks a significant increase in the country’s attacks involving digital assets compared to previous years.

TRM Labs noted that the DPRK’s methods for money laundering are in a constant state of evolution to circumvent international law enforcement pressure. The research suggested that North Korean hackers typically compromise users’ private keys or seed phrases, transfer funds to DPRK-controlled wallets, and then swap the assets for stablecoins like Tether or Tron.

The cumulative impact of DPRK-led cyber thefts in the cryptocurrency space has reached an alarming $3 billion since 2017. TRM Labs emphasized the need for continuous vigilance and innovation from businesses and governments, given North Korea’s sophisticated hacking capabilities.

The United States Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on individuals and hacking groups allegedly tied to North Korea, including Lazarus. Despite these sanctions and the recent targeting of cryptocurrency mixers Tornado Cash and Sinbad, TRM Labs reported that the DPRK is exploring alternative money laundering tools.

CertiK, another blockchain security firm, reported on January 3 that there were approximately 751 breaches in 2023, resulting in the loss of over $1.8 billion in cryptocurrency. Allegedly, one-third of these losses, amounting to $686 million over 224 incidents, can be attributed to DPRK hackers. The Ethereum network was particularly impacted, recording the highest losses among various blockchain platforms.

U.S. officials have consistently pointed to digital assets as a basis for imposing sanctions on certain entities. Following the October 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas on Israel, cryptocurrency mixers have become a specific target for lawmakers who argue that the technology is predominantly used for illicit purposes. As global efforts to combat cyber threats intensify, the report from TRM Labs underscores the persistent challenges posed by North Korea’s prolific cyber-theft activities in the cryptocurrency space.


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