According to Chainalysis, nearly $400 million worth of crypto was stolen by North Korean hackers through cyber attacks in 2021.
According to the Jan. 13 report by the blockchain analytics company, the type of crypto stolen has changed as well. BTC was responsible for almost all of the crypto that the DPRK stole in 2017, but now it accounts for only one fifth.
“In 2021 only 20% of the funds stolen were Bitcoin. 22% were ERC-20 tokens and altcoins. Ether was the main source of 58% of the stolen funds, which is the first time it has ever been done.
According to the report, attacks by North Korea in 2021 were mainly directed at “investment firms” and centralized exchanges. They also used phishing lures and code exploits, malware and advanced social engineering to fraudulently obtain the funds.
According to a UN Security Council Report, the DPRK is suspected to have stolen cryptocurrency to help it evade economic sanctions as well as to fund its nuclear weapons programs.
Global crypto platforms are now facing a constant threat from the DPRK. Chainalysis refers to hackers from Hermit Kingdoms such as Lazarus Group as advanced persistent threats. These threats have increased over the last three years after the theft of more than $500 million worth crypto in 2018.
Chainalysis stated that the funds had been meticulously washed. There are many methods to do this, including chain hopping and the ‘Peel Chain method. In recent times, hackers have used a complex system of coin swaps, mixing and matching.
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Mixers were used to steal more than 65% of the stolen funds in 2021. This is three times more than what was reported in 2019. Mixers are software-based privacy systems that allow users to conceal the origin and destination of coins they send. Hackers are increasingly choosing decentralized exchanges (DEX), because they are anonymous and allow for the swapping of coins at will.
Chainalysis used the hack at Liquid.com on Aug. 19, 2021 in which $91,000,000 in crypto was stolen to illustrate the typical way DPRK hackers launder money. First, they swapped ERC-20 for Ether (ETH), at decentralized exchanges. The ETH was then sent to a mixer where it was swapped for Bitcoin, which was also mixed. BTC was then sent from the mixer to centralized Asian markets as a possible fiat off-ramp.
Eileen Wilson –Technology and Energy
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