North Korea Circumvents Sanctions Stealing Crypto

March 13, 2019

The United Nations Security Council gathered an expert panel to acquire better insight about malfeasances by North Korean in the cyberspace. The report was centered on the notion that the criminal organization backed by the rogue state have been especially active when it came to obtaining cryptocurrencies either by hacking the exchanges or by resorting to extortion through the dissemination of malware.

The panel reported that thanks to numerous successful cyber attacks, which were executed in the period from 2015 to 2018, Pyongyang managed to accumulate approximately $650 million in cryptocurrencies and other virtual assets.

The experts also emphasized that North Korean has been actively utilizing the blockchain technology to conduct that attacks and evade economic sanctions imposed for impudent reluctance displayed by the regime with regard to winding down the nuclear missile program. The panelists believe that the major portion of the attacks was masterminded by the special hacker units which are under direct supervision of the North Korean military.

The recent instances of cyber attacks that may have been initiated by North Korea

Most cybersecurity companies are convinced that North Korea had its hands in most major hacks that took place recently. The fundamental reason for such unprecedented upsurge of activity of Pyongyang-backed criminals may reside in the severe economic sanctions that had greatly hindered the country’s exports of coal, which served as a primary source for legal obtainment of foreign currency.      

The hack that gained the headlines of all crypto news outlets involved stealing $500 million worth of cryptocurrency from the Japanese exchange called Coincheck, which happened last year on January 26. 

The hackers compromised the platform’s NEM hot wallet, which, by the way, wasn’t protected by XEMsign, the trademark multisignature contract security solution, and absconded with a half billion USD in NEM tokens. The investigation, conducted by the National Intelligence Agency of South Korea, hinted that the attack may have been made by their hostile northern neighbors.

The Bank of Bangladesh hack is another shining example of industriousness displayed by the cyber villains.They utilized the SWIFT network to persuade the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to transfer $851 million from the account that belonged to the Central Bank of Bangladesh to various accounts in Sri Lanka and Phillippines. The larger portion of the requested sum was flagged as suspicious and halted by the bank authorities, but $81 million, of which $18 had later been recovered, still landed in the hands of the perpetrators. The U.S. authorities established a link between the North Korean government and the attack and even pressed charges against a Korean programmer.

The organization that may stand behind the attacks

Most investigators concur that the infamous group of hackers, known collectively as Lazarus or the Hidden Cobra, have contributed to nearly all acts of cyber theft that took place in the aforementioned period of time.

The group was formed around 2009, and since that time, it has been terrorizing financial institutions and users around the world. The members of the Lazarus Group were the architects of AppleJesus, the malware campaign in the course of which they extorted crypto from Mac OS users. They were also associated with the notorious WannaCry ransomware as well as hundreds of attacks on different financial institutions in the US, Europe, and Asia.

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