April 07, 2023 10:46
North Korean hackers stole an estimated US$630 million to $1 billion of cryptocurrencies last year, according to a Panel of Experts report by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea on Wednesday.
"The variation in [U.S. dollar] value of cryptocurrency in recent months is likely to have affected these estimates, but both show that 2022 was a record-breaking year for [North Korean] virtual asset theft."
The 487-page report elaborates how the North evaded international sanctions and carried out cyberattacks. It estimates that the North's "cybercrime yielded cyber currencies worth over $1 billion at the time of the threat, which is more than double the total proceeds in 2021."
North Korea used the stolen money to fund its development of nuclear weapons and unprecedented flurry of missile launches. Cyberattacks were carried out by hacker groups such as Kimsuky and Lazarus Group controlled by the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau.
The North "used increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques both to gain access to digital networks involved in cyber finance and to steal information of potential value," the report says. "Initial contacts with individuals were made via LinkedIn, and once a level of trust with the targets was established, malicious payloads were delivered through continued communications over WhatsApp."
The cyberattacks targeted defense, energy and infrastructure firms or their employees. The panel is also investigating cyber espionage activities against Ukraine, which is under attack from Russia.
The panel warns that loopholes still exist that allowed the North to carry refined oil and coal and exported military equipment to Africa on 20 old ships it illegally acquired since 2020.
Pyongyang is allowed to import only up to 500,000 barrels of oil products per year but in fact bought an estimated 792,383 barrels of refined oil through Nampo port on 45 occasions from January to August last year.
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