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North Korea Possibly Amassed $545 Million Through Crypto Theft: Report

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It is likely that the value of cryptocurrency that Pyongyang obtained between 2017 and 2018 has reached at least $545 million, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) for Defense and Security Studies estimates.

A large amount of money siphoned through cryptocurrency theft is one of the sources to fund North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the British defense and security think tank reported.

Cryptocurrency-related activity forms a part of North Korea's broader attempts to bolster its technological capabilities for engaging in illicit financial activity and is likely to continue as long as the rewards outweigh the costs, the think tank warns.

North Korea's preferred method of acquiring cryptocurrencies is not ransomware, but the hacking of cryptocurrency exchanges, particularly those located in South Korea, the report says.

South Korean exchanges, many of which are highly vulnerable to cyber attack, account for 16 percent of all global cryptocurrency trading, says the report titled "Closing the Crypto Gap Guidance for Countering North Korean Cryptocurrency Activity in Southeast Asia".

The report cites the hacking of cryptocurrency exchanges Bithumb and Youbit several times by North Korean cyber criminals. North Korea's state-sponsored cybercriminal group, The Lazarus Group is largely believed to be behind the attacks, the report says.

North Korea has been linked to six successful exchange hacks that occurred between April 2017 and June 2018 and has attempted to launch many other hacking campaigns during that period.

RUSI also reports that North Korea has mined Bitcoin, and has been linked to the unauthorized use of a South Korean company's computer servers to mine altcoin Monero.

Researchers from Recorded Future suggested that North Korea has the capabilities and tools required for effectively creating and managing a network of covert cryptocurrency miners who could generate a substantial volume of funds.

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