North Korean Hackers Looted Over $600,000,000 in Crypto in 2023: Report

Published: Jan 5, 2024
Written By:
Vignesh Karunanidhi
Milk Road Writer

North Korean state-sponsored hacking groups stole over $600 million in cryptocurrency in 2023. This accounts for almost one-third of all cyber theft proceeds, according to research published this week by TRM Labs. The figures spotlight the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s dominance as the world’s most prolific crypto fraud actor.

Key Details:

  • North Korean hackers stole over $600 million in crypto during 2023.
  • Additional year-end heists could push totals over $700 million.
  • Represents nearly one-third of all cyber theft funds, despite a drop from the 2022 number.
North Korean hackers
Source: TRM Labs

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North Korean hackers target private keys and seed phrases

North Korea has notoriously turned to cryptocrime to raise funds for its isolated regime as traditional finance channels are constricted under global sanctions related to nuclear weapons development ambitions.

By compromising private keys and seed phrases to drain wallets, state-sponsored groups have looted close to $3 billion in total since 2017. The stolen assets quickly transition through various crypto mixers in efforts to obscure transaction histories before conversion to non-crypto currencies.

“Hackers transfer the victims’ digital assets to wallet addresses controlled by North Korean operatives. They are then swapped mostly for USDT or Tron and converted to hard currency using high-volume OTC brokers,” said TRM Labs in the report.

Read more: Taiwan Police Bust Crypto Exchange In $32,100,000 Fraud Scheme

As highlighted in the report, Pyongyang adapts tactics as specific money laundering tools and exchanges face restrictions. This includes pivoting from Tornado Cash to alternatives like Sinbad and BitMixer when the former faced OFAC sanctions.

Despite cybersecurity improvements across the crypto sector, TRM expects 2024 will see persisting disruption as Pyongyang explores new vulnerabilities and infrastructure.

With nearly $1.5 billion drained in just the last two years, North Korea’s hacking apparatus is outpacing reform efforts. Preventing further catastrophic breaches will require coordinated public and private collaboration globally.

Vignesh Karunanidhi

Vignesh has been a seasoned professional in the crypto space since 2017. He has been writing for over 6 years and specializes in writing and editing various types of crypto content, including news articles, long-form pieces, and blog posts, all focused on sharing the beauty of blockchain and crypto.

Vignesh Karunanidhi
Milk Road Writer
Vignesh has been a seasoned professional in the crypto space since 2017. He has been writing for over 6 years and specializes in writing and editing various types of crypto content, including news articles, long-form pieces, and blog posts, all focused on sharing the beauty of blockchain and crypto.