North Korean hackers who feed off that booming crypto economy in 2021 had a very good year.
North Korean Hackers Stole $395 million in 2021
The value of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum has skyrocketed in the last year, with Bitcoin increasing by 60% in 2021 and Ethereum increasing by 80%.
It’s certainly no surprise, then, that the relentless North Korean hackers who profit from the expanding crypto-economy enjoyed a banner year.
According to blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis, North Korean hackers stole $395 million in cryptocurrencies last year through seven hacks into cryptocurrency exchanges and investment organizations.
The nine-figure sum represents a nearly $100 million increase over the previous year’s thefts by North Korean hacker groups, bringing their total haul in cryptocurrency to $1.5 billion over the last five years—not counting the uncounted hundreds of millions more stolen from the traditional financial system.
Despite the country’s tightly sanctioned, isolated, and struggling economy, that stash of stolen cryptocurrency now adds significantly to Kim Jong-dictatorial un’s regime’s finances as it strives to support itself—and its weapons projects.
“They’ve been extremely effective,” says Erin Plante, a senior director of investigations at Chainalysis, whose analysis predicts a “banner year” for North Korean cryptocurrency crimes in 2021.
An Increase in Serial Robbers
The findings show that North Korea’s global, serial robberies have increased even in the face of an attempted law enforcement crackdown.
In February of last year, the US Justice Department indicted three North Koreans in absentia, accusing them of stealing at least $121 million from cryptocurrency businesses, among other financial crimes.
A Canadian guy was also charged with allegedly assisting in money laundering. Those attempts, however, haven’t stemmed from the loss of cryptocurrency riches.
“We were encouraged to see law enforcement agencies take action against North Korea,” Plante says, “but the threat remains and is escalating.”
The Chainalysis figures, which are based on exchange rates at the time the money was stolen, don’t just show a rise in the value of cryptocurrencies.
The increase in stolen assets corresponds to the number of thefts last year; the seven breaches detected by Chainalysis in 2021 are three more than in 2020, but still less than the ten successful operations carried out by North Korean hackers in 2018 when they stole a record $522 million.