North Korea may have already stolen between $545 million to $735 million in digital assets as part of its tactic to continue financing its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs while circumventing international sanctions, according to British defence and security think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
As it stands, the East Asian country has been persistently involved in multiple cybercrime activities, including hacking a number of digital currency exchanges, mostly those based in South Korea like YouBit and Bithumb, which have apparently been targeted more than once, according to a paper published April 12 by the Royal United Services Institute.
According to the report, the number of cybercrime operatives working for the hermit kingdom has now reached over thousands, the most notorious of which includes the allegedly state-backed North Korean cybercrime organization dubbed the Lazarus Group.
As the report indicated:
“In 2015, South Korean intelligence estimated that North Korea employs up to 6,000 cyber-warfare experts, a number that has likely grown since then. Among these experts are the Lazarus Group, a group of hackers working under the 6th Technical Bureau, within North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau. The Lazarus Group is often also referred to as Unit 180 or Bureau 121, although experts debate whether these are all indeed the same group.”
As it would appear, part of North Korea’s impetus for targeting domestic crypto exchanges in South Korea is the fact that the crypto industry has seen massive growth in Asia’s 4th largest economy in the last several years, now accounting for over 16 percent of the world’s crypto trading volume. That, coupled with the fact that domestic crypto exchanges based in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula have been proven to be “highly vulnerable to cyber attack,” the report underscored.
Aside from hacking crypto exchanges, North Korea has also been ostensibly linked to multiple cryptojacking incidents, in which most of its victims were predominantly South Korean companies. In one case purportedly involving North Korea, cybercriminals have reportedly managed to illicitly mine roughly 70 Monero coins equivalent to nearly $4,500 at press time.
The report published by RUSI supports similar statements previously released in March by the U.N. Security Council’s panel of experts. According to the UN panel, North Korea has apparently already amassed millions of dollars through multiple crypto heists.
While a number of regional players have openly expressed frustration over the international sanction imposed on North Korea, the nation’s tactics to skirt such sanction come as no surprise. In a recent report published by the Financial Times, Japan’s foreign minister Taro Kono pointed out the many legal cracks in the sanction that needed sealing.
RUSI’s report follows on the heels of a recent statement made by North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un indicating that he was willing to hold a third summit with U.S. president Donald Trump, provided that “the United States approaches us with the right manner.” Trump subsequently responded amicably, praising the international ties the two countries have forged.