North Korean Hackers Stole Nearly $400M in Bitcoin, Ethereum in 2021: Report

Hackers in North Korea are still holding roughly $170 million worth of stolen and “unlaundered” crypto, says research firm Chainalysis.

North Korean cybercriminals launched at least seven attacks against cryptocurrency platforms last year. These attacks, per blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, netted almost $400 million worth of digital assets.

“Once North Korea gained custody of the funds, they began a careful laundering process to cover up and cash out,” the Chainalysis team said in a blog post.

In 2020, there were only four North Korea-affiliated hacks — as opposed to 2021’s seven. The value of these hacks, per Chainlaysis, also grew by 40% between 2020 and 2021. It’s worth noting, however, that the price of Bitcoin from 2020 to 2021 itself grew by 303%, and the price of Ethereum — the second largest crypto asset by market cap — grew by 472%.

North Korea’s lucrative 2021

Per Chainalysis data, Bitcoin now accounts for less than one quarter of North Korean stolen cryptocurrency — in fact, only 20% of these stolen funds now comprise of Bitcoin when measured in dollar value.

In contrast, Ethereum makes up the vast majority of stolen funds for the Hermit Kingdom. In total, 58% of North Korea’s stolen crypto funds are now Ethereum.

This, in turn, shines a light on exactly what North Korea does in order to launder stolen crypto funds.

Per Chainalysis, the procedure starts by swapping Ethereum-based ERC-20 tokens and other cryptocurrencies for Ethereum (ETH) via a decentralized exchange. The Ethereum is then put through a so-called mixer, which Chainalysis described as “software tools that pool and scramble cryptocurrencies from thousands of addresses.” Those funds are then swapped for Bitcoin, mixed a second time, and consolidated into a new wallet.




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