In the past five years, North Korean cybercriminals have reportedly pilfered an estimated $2 billion in cryptocurrency. Blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs revealed this news, focusing on the nefarious exploits of these hackers. North Korea has stolen around $200 million of crypto this year alone, making up 20% of all funds stolen in 2023.
It’s worth noting that the cybersecurity threat imposed by North Korea seems to have a much larger scale compared to other malicious actors. The malicious activities accountable to just this country are estimated to be ten times larger. Recently, these cybercriminals have been zoning in on the decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem, with a keen interest on cross-chain bridges handling significant volume of crypto transfers.
A dangerous precedent has been set by North Korean hackers with successful attacks, such as the Axie Infinity Ronin Bridge hack, which led to the loss of $650 million worth of crypto. In 2022 alone, collective theft by North Korean hackers summed up to around $800 million spread across three separate attacks.
Various methods are employed in these cyber heists, from phishing attacks to supply chain attacks involving compromised private keys and seed phrases. The hackers haven’t just evolved in their attack methodologies; their money laundering techniques have also grown more complex. Where crypto exchanges were once used to cash out stolen cryptocurrency, they now employ multi-stage money laundering techniques.
TRM Labs highlights the seriousness of the threat by examining the 2023 Atomic Wallet hack, which was pulled off by North Korean hackers. In this attack, more than $100 million in cryptocurrency was stolen from over 4,100 addresses. Across several blockchains, including Ethereum, Bitcoin, and others, the stolen funds were sent to newly created wallets.
While the evolution of their attack methods is alarming, their adaptation to countermeasures imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, law enforcement, and improved blockchain tracing tools, is even more frightening.
In a broader context, the security landscape of the crypto world is threatened not just by hackers, but also by market crashes often sparked by controversial figures likeElon Musk. Nevertheless, enthusiasts believe in the potential of crypto to revolutionize finance, despite its vulnerabilities. Rest assured, researchers and cybersecurity experts are finding ways to make the crypto world safer, but, so too are the hackers evolving into greater threats. Therein lies the ever-shifting landscape of crypto safety.