North Korean hackers have been responsible for stealing approximately $497 million in cryptocurrencies from U.S. businesses since 2017, as per an Elliptic analysis sponsored by Nikkei. The analysis specifically examined businesses whose cryptocurrencies were transferred to wallets linked to North Korea’s state-sponsored Lazarus Group, notorious for exploiting various decentralized finance (DeFi) projects.
Both the United Nations and the U.S. government have repeatedly emphasized that North Korea supports cybercrime as a means to fund its missile program. A UN report stated that hackers from the country pilfered over $1 billion in crypto assets in 2022, more than double the amount stolen in 2021. Today, Eun Young Choi, an official from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), announced that the federal agency is intensifying its scrutiny of DeFi exploiters due to the prevalence of North Korea-backed hackers in these illicit activities.
The Nikkei-sponsored analysis further revealed that these state-sponsored hackers have also targeted other countries such as Japan, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. Over the past five years, they have stolen approximately $2.3 billion in crypto assets from businesses worldwide.
Among the targeted countries, Japan appears to be a primary focus for these hackers, with stolen funds amounting to $721 billion, accounting for 30% of their illegal gains. Vietnam follows with $540 million stolen, and Hong Kong with $281 million. The analysis indicates that the hackers relied on ransomware payments and hacking techniques to acquire their illicit funds. They directly targeted crypto exchanges and exploited vulnerabilities in cross-chain DeFi projects like Horizon. In some cases, they breached businesses’ data and coerced them into paying ransom in cryptocurrencies.
Notably, the study discovered that these hackers specifically targeted Japan and exploited the country’s inadequate security measures. Between 2018 and 2021, North Korean hackers successfully breached at least three exchanges in Japan, as reported by Elliptic.