North Korea’s hacker army launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms in 2021 that menaced global players and netted the reclusive state almost $400 million worth of digital assets, a report said.
The haul marked a 40% increase from a year before, the report from blockchain research firm Chainalysis released Thursday said, adding that the attacks primarily targeted investment firms and centralized exchanges.
“These behaviors, put together, paint a portrait of a nation that supports cryptocurrency-enabled crime on a massive scale,” it said.
Chainalysis’s conclusions underscore leader Kim Jong Un’s reliance on state-supported hackers. The U.S. and the United Nations Security Council have said the country’s cyber crimes help finance North Korea’s nuclear arms program and prop up an economy hobbled by global sanctions over atomic bomb and long-range missile tests.
The amount reported by the research group equals roughly 1.5% of North Korea’s economy in 2020 and would likely account for more than 10% of its annual military budget. The money North Korea gets from cyber crimes helps it “fund government priorities, such as its nuclear and missile program,” the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in an unclassified report in 2021.
Chainalysis said North Korea made use of phishing lures, code exploits, malware, and advanced social engineering to siphon funds. “Once North Korea gained custody of the funds, they began a careful laundering process to cover up and cash out.”
North Korea is stealing a growing variety of cryptocurrencies, the report said. This has increased the complexity of its money-laundering operations, which have grown more cautious with each passing year, it added.
The report comes as North Korea ratcheted up pressure over sanctions, saying in a Friday dispatch from its Foreign Ministry, it would unleash “stronger and certain reaction,” if the U.S. tried to impose more economic pressure.