North Korean hackers stole over $300 million worth of cryptocurrencies throughout much of 2020 to support its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programs, according to a confidential United Nations report.
The report, which was sent to UN Security Council members on Monday, February 8, was compiled by a panel of experts monitoring sanctions on Pyongyang. It has revealed that North Korea's total theft of the virtual assets between 2019 and November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million.
North Korean Hackers and Kim Jong Un
There is no denial among the cybersecurity experts that over the years several hacking activities have been conducted by North Korean hackers. There are also reports which have revealed the modus operandi of these threat actors.
According to the report, the state-backed hackers gained access to financial institutions and exchanges to generate revenue for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development. The vast majority of such incidents came from two thefts that took place in late 2020.
Currently, North Korea is under several international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which made massive progress under the country's current leader—Kim Jong Un. In February 2019, a summit between Kim and the former US President Donald Trump in Hanoi broke down over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
In October last year and January 2021, North Korea—known for being the most isolated and secretive country in the world—showed off its missiles at military parades. At that time, the supreme leader and the head of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim, also vowed to strengthen its nuclear arsenal.
However, according to the UN panel, it was investigating a September 2020 cyberattack against a cryptocurrency exchange. The hack caused the theft of $281 million worth of cryptocurrencies, while another cybersecurity breach led to the theft of $23 million virtual currencies in October last year.
"Preliminary analysis, based on the attack vectors and subsequent efforts to launder the illicit proceeds strongly suggests links to the DPRK," said the UN report.
From Sony Hack to Cryptocurrency Theft
The North Korean cyberwarfare abilities first came under the spotlight after a notorious group of hackers, known as Lazarus, hacked Sony Pictures in 2014. Through the vicious operation, the hackers gained access to several computers and then published embarrassing emails from company executives to avenge a film—"The Interview"—that depicted the assassination of North Korea's leader.
But that was just the starting of a saga. In the past few years, the hackers launched several attacks targeting private and government organizations all around the world. The North Korean hackers made headlines after they stole cryptocurrencies worth millions and found to be responsible for cyberattacks on cryptocurrency exchanges since January 2017.
The state-backed hackers are also blamed for $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank and the theft of $60 million from Taiwan's Far Eastern International Bank. They were also allegedly behind the 2017 WannaCry global ransomware cyberattack, which infected around 300,000 computers in 150 nations. But Pyongyang said that they didn't know about any cybersecurity incident.