Cybersecurity News

A heist In plain sight: North Korean hackers stole over $600 million in 2023

The rogue regime uses the funds it illegally attains through cybercrime to fund it’s weapons programme.

In 2023, threat actors associated with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly known as North Korea, successfully pilfered a staggering $600 million in cryptocurrency, marking a significant reduction from their 2022 haul of $850 million, according to blockchain analytics firm TRM Labs.

TRM Labs revealed last week that the DPRK was accountable for nearly one-third of the total funds stolen in cryptocurrency attacks throughout the previous year. Notably, the average impact of hacks orchestrated by the DPRK was approximately ten times more severe than those not affiliated with North Korea.

Despite this reduction in the overall amount, there are ominous signs that the figure could rise to approximately $700 million, with the likelihood of additional breaches targeting the crypto sector towards the end of 2023.

The North Korean state-sponsored actors have a history of targeting cryptocurrency companies, having amassed a total of $3 billion in ill-gotten gains since 2017. These financially motivated cyber-attacks serve as a crucial revenue-generation mechanism for the nation, aiding in funding its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes.

The modus operandi of these intrusions involves leveraging social engineering techniques to entice targets. The attacks primarily focus on compromising private keys and seed phrasesโ€”critical components used to secure digital wallets. Once acquired, threat actors gain unauthorised access to victims’ assets and proceed to transfer them to wallets under their control.

TRM Labs reported, “They are then swapped mostly for USDT or Tron and converted to hard currency using high-volume OTC brokers.” The company highlighted the ongoing evolution of DPRK hackers’ strategies, even after the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a crypto mixer service, Sinbad, for processing a portion of their proceeds.

“With nearly USD 1.5 billion stolen in the past two years alone, North Korea’s hacking prowess demands continuous vigilance and innovation from businesses and governments,” emphasised TRM Labs.

This alarming trend underscores the persistent threat posed by North Korean hackers and emphasises the imperative need for enhanced cybersecurity measures to safeguard against their evolving tactics. For more information on this issue, refer to TRM Labs’ detailed analysis.

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