North Korea stole $620 million in crypto in March to fund missiles: NK special envoy
North Korea stole $620 million in cryptocurrency from hacking a gaming company in March, which was likely used to fund the launch of dozens of ballistic missiles it fired in the first half of this year, Seoul’s special envoy for North Korea said Thursday.
Kim Gunn, special representative for peace and security affairs on the Korean Peninsula, speaking at a symposium on North Korean cyber threats jointly by the State Department and the US State Department, said Pyongyang likely spent about $400 million to $650 million to launch up 31 ballistic missiles in the first half of this year.
The special envoy suggests that the fund Pyongyang stole from one of the latest and biggest cyber fraud cases this year would likely have contributed to the missile launches. The North Korean regime is suspected of stealing more than $620 million in cryptocurrency from the online video game Axie Infinity in March.
Through Thursday, North Korea had fired an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles at more than 65, with the latest the same day.
At the symposium, Jung Pak, the US deputy special representative for North Korea, explained how cryptocurrency exchanges and blockchain companies provide Pyongyang “a lucrative arena” to engage in malicious cyber activity – not just to bypass the international financial system and avoid the UN. sanctions, but also to finance its growing weapons program.
“The DPRK is one of only a few countries in the world and definitely the most terrible that actively steals money from other countries, their companies and their people,” Pak said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
She also raised concerns that Pyongyang is targeting developing countries precisely because they have not yet developed robust cyber defenses.
About the North’s cryptocurrency heist in March, which she said was the largest on record, the regime would likely have used the fund to procure materials for its illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, she said.
“The United States has taken steps to limit the DPRK’s malicious cyber activities and thereby impede its weapons development. … We have imposed sanctions on DPRK cyber actors and those who facilitate their malicious activities, and have worked to build our partners’ capacity to defend against this threat, Pak said.
“It is important for governments, network defenders and the public to remain vigilant and to work together to mitigate the cyber threat posed by the DPRK.”
Director-General of North Korean Nuclear Affairs Lee Tae-woo at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said North Korea appears to have collected about $1 billion in cryptocurrency from January to July, citing a report released this year.
“North Korea’s illegal cyber activities should not only be taken as an economic crime. North Korea’s foreign currency is directly used to develop nuclear missiles, Lee said.
“So the measures to deal with North Korea’s cyber threats mean more than just preventing economic damage, it is for the peace and stability of the international community.”
The day before, South Korea and the United States held a second working group meeting on North Korean cyber threats in Seoul, where they agreed to strengthen cooperation, with Lee Tae-woo and Jung Pak leading the respective delegations.
North Korea has been observed increasing number of hacking cases around the world.
In 2014, hackers believed to be linked to the North Korean government broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment to steal confidential documents and expose them online. In 2017, 48 entities in the UK, mainly hospitals, were affected by cyber-ransom attacks where criminals behind the attack were observed to have collected only around $20,000, although they caused losses and costs estimated at well over $100 million.
About 200 attended Thursday’s symposium, which brought government officials from 16 countries and others from the private sector, including cryptocurrency experts and blockchain firms, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.
By Jo He-rim ([email protected])