North Korea crypto hacking activity soars to record high in 2023, new report shows

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The FBI claims North Korea-linked hackers were behind a $100 million crypto heist on the so-called Horizon bridge in 2022.

Budrul Chukrut | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

North Korea-linked hackers attacked a record number of crypto platforms in 2023, according to Chainalysis in its latest report on Wednesday.

Data collected from 2016 to 2023 showed that North Korea hacked 20 crypto platforms last year — the highest level recorded in that time period, according to the blockchain analytics firm.

North Korea-affiliated hackers stole slightly over $1 billion worth of crypto assets last year, which was lower than the record $1.7 billion stolen by North Korea-affiliated hackers in 2022.

“North Korea-linked hacks have been on the rise over the past few years, with cyber-espionage groups such as Kimsuky and Lazarus Group utilizing various malicious tactics to acquire large amounts of crypto assets,” said Chainalysis on Wednesday.

Another report by blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs said hackers tied to North Korea stole at least $600 million in crypto in 2023.

In September, the FBI confirmed that North Korea’s Lazarus Group was responsible for the theft of about $41 million in crypto assets from online casino and betting platform Stake.com.

On Nov. 29, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Sinbad.io, a virtual currency mixer that is a key money-laundering tool for Lazarus Group. Crypto mixers are services that mix crypto from different sources to make transactions harder to trace.

The OFAC said Sinbad.io was responsible for assisting Lazarus Group in laundering millions of dollars in crypto stolen from the Horizon Bridge and Axie Infinity hacks, among others.

Previous research revealed that North Korea-affiliated hackers stole hundreds of millions of crypto to fund the regime’s nuclear weapons programs.

Since North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, the state has been slapped with several United Nations sanctions, aimed at limiting the regime’s access to sources of funding needed to support its nuclear activities.

“With nearly $1.5 billion stolen in the past two years alone, North Korea’s hacking prowess demands continuous vigilance and innovation from business and governments,” said TRM Labs in its Jan. 5 report.

“Despite notable advancements in cybersecurity among exchanges and increased international collaboration in tracking and recovering stolen funds, 2024 is likely to see further disruption from the world’s most prolific cyber-thief.”

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