North Korean hackers net $670 million in foreign currency through crypto-attacks, reports UN Security Council panel

A report detailing North Korea’s evasion of economic embargos using blockchain technology was revealed by a Tokyo-based media outlet, Nikkei Asian Review. The report published by the United Nation Security Council [UNSC] panel cited that North Korean hackers carried out a series of cyber attacks on overseas financial institutions.

The controversial East Asian country had leveraged blockchain technology in a bid to conceal its trail and allegedly hoarded nearly $670 million in foreign currency.

The media outlet also reported that the country carried out cyber attacks between 2015 and 2018 through ‘specialized corps’. Reportedly, these ‘corps’ belonged to the country’s military and were now an integral part of the North Korean government policy.

Digital assets are not regulated by any institution in the country. This makes tracing of transactions very difficult and can be attributed to the growing fraudulent activities that the technology is entangled in. North Korea leveraged blockchain technology to dodge the embargos imposed by member states. An example cited by the Japanese news portal was the case of the Hong Kong-based Marine Chain. The startup dealt with buying and selling of ships globally using blockchain technology and was speculated of ‘supplying cryptocurrencies’ to the North Korean regime.

Major world powers imposed economic sanctions on North Korea. The country was sanctioned over ten times due to the country’s involvement in cyber-attacks and money laundering, among other violations. The sanctions have also affected its coal export, the country’s essential foreign exchange provider.

Earlier this year, the South Korean National Intelligence Service [NIS] claimed that North Korean hackers stole millions of dollars’ worth of crypto assets from its cryptocurrency exchanges. Prior to this, illicit players were suspected of carrying out an attack on the Japanese crypto exchange, CoinCheck. Another South Korean exchange which was a victim of the notorious hackers was Bithumb. In this heist, along with the million of worth crypto funds, personal credentials were also compromised.

Nikkei speculated that cyber-attacks by North Korean hackers across the world totaled to a massive $571 million between 2015-2018. In order to check and detect cyber evasion by the illicit North Korean actors, the UNSC panel stated:

“..[countries should] enhance their ability to facilitate robust information exchange on the cyber attacks by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK] with other governments and with their own financial institutions.”

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