July 16, 2024
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North Korean Hackers Remain a Menace to Cryptocurrency Ecosystem, Accumulating $2 Billion in Stolen Funds

Continuing to pose a persistent threat to the wider cryptocurrency landscape, North Korean hackers have managed to seize an approximate sum of $2 billion in crypto over the past five years.

Delving into the intricate domain of cryptocurrency-related hacking, the blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs has published an in-depth analysis focused on the activities of North Korean cybercriminals. Drawing from TRM Labs’ data, it becomes evident that North Korea has successfully pilfered approximately $200 million in cryptocurrency during the year 2023, constituting 20% of the total stolen funds for this year.

The scale of North Korean cyberattacks appears to surpass those of other malicious actors by a factor of ten. Notably, these hackers from North Korea have zeroed in on the decentralized finance (DeFi) landscape, targeting cross-chain bridges that facilitate a substantial volume of cryptocurrency transfers.

Instances of cross-chain breaches, like the notorious Axie Infinity Ronin Bridge hack, led to the theft of $650 million in crypto. A series of three separate attacks in 2022 alone saw North Korean hackers collectively making off with around $800 million.

The techniques employed in executing these cyberattacks exhibit a range of diversity, encompassing tactics such as phishing and supply chain attacks, which involve compromised private keys and seed phrases.

TRM Labs underscores the growing ingenuity of North Korean hackers in employing on-chain laundering strategies. Whereas stolen cryptocurrency was once predominantly funneled through cryptocurrency exchanges for cashing out, the modus operandi has evolved into intricate “multi-stage money laundering processes.”

This evolution of tactics can be attributed to intensified sanctions imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the efforts of law enforcement, and the enhanced capabilities of blockchain tracking tools. TRM Labs elucidates this transformation through the example of the Atomic Wallet hack in 2023, a breach that North Korean hackers used to conceal their activities.

In this specific incident occurring in June 2023, the hackers targeted Atomic Wallet, a noncustodial wallet provider, and managed to siphon off $100 million in cryptocurrency from over 4,100 addresses. TRM Labs speculates that a phishing or supply chain attack was the likely entry point for this exploit. The stolen funds were extracted from user wallets across various blockchains such as Ethereum, Tron, Bitcoin, XRP, Dogecoin, Stellar, and Litecoin. The funds were subsequently funneled into new wallets, with ERC-20 and TRC-20 tokens being exchanged for Ether and Tron using decentralized exchanges. The hackers then utilized a mix of automated programs, mixers, and cross-chain swaps to launder the ill-gotten gains.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Disclosure Statement: Miami Crypto does not take any external funding, or support to bring crypto news to the readers. We do not have any conflicts of interest while writing news stories on Miami Crypto.

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