North Korea may have stolen more than $ 300 million in cryptocurrency exchange assets to circumvent sanctions against it and fund its nuclear programs, according to a United Nations (UN) preliminary investigation report published this Wednesday (10).
Prepared by a group of experts tasked with monitoring the application of sanctions against North Korea, the document estimates that “in total, the thefts of virtual goods committed by the country between 2019 and November 2020 amount to around 316, US $ 4 million. [R$ 1,7 bilhão]”.
The UN has not released the names of the victims of the cyberattacks, but the figures mentioned suggest, according to experts, that the crimes primarily targeted the Seychelles-based cryptocurrency broker KuCoin.
In September of last year, the company was injured by 281 million US dollars (1.5 billion reais). The following month, another attack resulted in the loss of an additional 23 million dollars (123.7 million reais). Other crimes totaling the value highlighted by specialists have been committed in lower proportions since 2019.
“Preliminary analysis, based on attack vectors and subsequent efforts to launder illicit profits, strongly suggests ties to the DPRK [República Popular Democrática da Coreia, nome formal da Coreia do Norte]”, informed the UN report.
Industry experts said the hackers responsible for the thefts were attempting to funnel money through decentralized transactions, organizing exchanges of values between individuals. The aim was to try and circumvent the rules of the trading platforms, which quickly branded the stolen money as illegal.
KuCoin recently reported that it was able to recover over 80% of the stolen amounts, in part thanks to the work of other exchanges that froze funds while they flow through their respective systems.
Last week, the company’s chief executive, Johnny Liu, said the identity of the hackers was already known, but, at the request of authorities, would not be made public until the case was considered closed.
According to another UN report, released in 2019, North Korea generated around $ 2 billion (10.76 billion reais) from “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” cyber attacks to rob banks and cryptocurrency stock exchanges in 2019.
Wednesday’s document further notes that in 2020, there was a “clear trend” that North Korea “was carrying out attacks on defense industries across the world.”
The skills of hackers linked to the Pyongyang regime emerged in 2014, when North Korea was accused of attacking the databases of the Sony Pictures studio in retaliation for the release of the 2014 film “The Interview.” the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, also tasked with assassinating him.
At the time, the regime denounced the film as “an undisguised sponsorship of terrorism, as well as an act of war,” in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In 2018, a cybersecurity company working with the US government revealed that a group of hackers linked to Kim Jong-un attempted to steal $ 1.1 billion (5.92 billion reais, at the current price) from organizations from several countries, including Brazil.
Among the confirmed targets were the Central Bank of Bangladesh, which lost $ 81 million (R $ 435 million) in 2016, and Taiwanese bank Far Eastern International, which stole $ 60 million (R $ 322 million) in 2017. .
Experts have been able to identify the hackers’ modus operandi in most cases. After making a flight, the North Korean group leaves a program capable of imploding the entire system.
The idea is, at the same time, to destroy the evidence of the attack and distract the security authorities, like a thief who burns the house after the theft. Many organizations don’t realize they’ve been the target of interventions at this point, when the theft is over and their network has been destroyed.
Since 2006, North Korea has been the subject of UN sanctions which have seriously damaged its economy. The measures have been reinforced by the member countries of the Entity Security Council, mainly the United States.
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled after the failure of the summit between Kim Jong-un and former President Donald Trump in 2019. One of the reasons given for this stagnation is the lack of consensus on the concessions that North Korea should do in return to lift sanctions and reduce international pressure.