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24 October 2020

North Korean crypto hacking: Separating fact from fiction

North Korean crypto hacking: Separating fact from fiction


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While multiple United States presidents have attempted to stifle the growth of North Korean nuclear energy development through a series of economic sanctions, cyber warfare is a new phenomenon that can’t be dealt with in a traditional way. .

Unfortunately for the crypto industry, DPRK has taken a liking to digital currencies and seems to be successfully escalating their operations around stealing and laundering cryptocurrencies to bypass crippling economic sanctions that have led to extreme poverty in the pariah state.

2020 continues the pattern of multiple updateson how much money the DPRK-backed hackers have allegedly stolen.A United Nations report from 2019 stated that North Korea has snatched around$2 billionfrom crypto exchanges and banks. .

Most recentestimates seem to indicate that the figure is around the $1.5to$2.5 billionmark.

Madeleine Kennedy,senior director of communications at crypto forensics firm Chainalysis told Cointelegraph that the lower estimate is likely understated:.

However, Rosa Smothers, senior vice president at KnowBe4 cyber security firms and a former CIA technical intelligence officer, told Cointelegraph that despite therecent accusations from the United States Department of Justicethat North Korean hackers stole nearly $250 million from two crypto exchanges, the total figure may not be as high, adding: “Given Kim Jong Un’s recent public admission of the country’s dismal economic situation, $1.5B strikes me as an overestimate.”.

DHS believes that BeagleBoyz have attempted to steal almost $2 billion since 2015, mostly targeting banking infrastructure such as ATMs and the SWIFT system.

government name for a recent cluster of activity targeting financials in 2019/2020,” adding that it’s unknown if the unit is new or “a new name attached to an initially unattributed campaign that was then later linked to DPRK activity.” He further told Cointelegraph that the malware samples were associated with those under the “hidden cobra” codename, which is a term used by the U.S.

John Jefferies, chief financial analyst at CipherTrace, a blockchain forensics company, told Cointelegraph that there are several prominent hacking groups and it’s extremely difficult to differentiate between them.Anastasiya Tikhonova, head of APT Research at Group-IB, a cybersecurity company,echoed the sentiment saying that regardless of the group name attached, the attack vectors are very similar:.

Speaking to Cointelegraph, Alejandro Cao de Benos, a special delegate of the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries of DPRK refuted claims that the country is behind the crypto cyber attacks, stating that it’s a “big propaganda campaign” against the government:.

Another number that various reports and studies fail to agree upon is the size of the cyber force that the North Korean government allegedly backs.

Parsons believes that the number was most likely derived from previous estimates obtained from a defector who fled DPRK in 2004, although conceding that: “The figure may also have been generated from internal U.S.

Smothers was more skeptical of the report’s conclusion, however stating that: “This is consistent with reporting from South Korea’s Defense Ministry who had, just a few years ago, estimated their number at 3,000,” adding that if anyone has such information, it would be South Korea.Addressing the question of how the set cyber force is organized and where it’s based,she also agreed that most hackers would be stationed around the world “given the limited bandwidth in North Korea.”

Jefferies also believes that “North Korean hackers are based all around the world — a privilege afforded to very few in the country,” also adding that in most cases, hacks attributed to North Korea are not conducted by hackers-for-hire

Jeffreries believes that more needs to be done in that regard: “Authorities need to enact and enforce crypto anti-money laundering laws and Travel Rule regulation to ensure that suspicious transactions are reported.” He also stressed the importance of authorities ensuring that virtual asset service providers deploy adequate Know Your Customer measures:

According to the authors supported the notion that attacks were for financial benefit as the stolen crypto could sit idle in wallets for up to 18 months prior to being moved due to fear of detection

But, perhaps more worryingly, is that, according to several commentators cited in this article, the hacking groups that seem to be backed by the North Korean regime continue to expand and branch out their operations since their methods are proving to be exceedingly successful

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